Sufi Qurʾān Commentary  (Draft, not for citation without permission.)  by Dr. Alan Godlas

 

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             Al-Tafsīr al-Ṣūfī  (Sufi Koran exegesis), also referred to as al-tafsīr al-eshārī  or be'l-eshāra  (Koran exegesis through allusion), is a little-studied, controversial, and voluminous genre of Koran commentary, the key feature of which is the "unveiling" (kashf)  to the individual Sufi commentator of a relationship between a Koranic verse and Sufi concepts.  Although the only comprehensive scholarly work on this genre is the Turkish İşārī tefsīr okulu (Ateş, 1974), Paul Nwyia investigated the primacy of the individual experience of the commentator in Sufi hermeneutics as well as the development of a Sufi vocabulary for expressing this (Nwyia, 1970).  Because Sufi commentators frequently move beyond the "apparent" (ẓāher)  point of the āyāt  on which they are commenting and instead relate Koranic āyāt   to the "inner or esoteric" (bāṭen) and metaphysical dimensions of consciousness and existence, they have often been criticized (Dhahabī, vol. 2, pp. 337-378; Mashannī, pp. 639-650).  The validity of such criticism is itself questionable, however, when it reaches the extent of conflating Sufi tafsīr with Ismāʿīlī (bāṭenīya) taʾwīl.   

            Although both Sufi tafsīr and Ismāʿīlī taʾwīl may share the designation of "taʾwīl" and are superficially similar, in fact they are two distinct kinds of hermeneutics.  On the one hand, two significant features of Ismāʿīlī taʾwīl are as follows: first, its method derives from the foundation (asās) that is the Imam; and second, in Ismāʿīlī taʾwīl the object of the āyāt revealed by taʾwīl is also often the Imam (Walker 1993, 124-133 and 1994, p. 120; Habil, p. 36; Nanji, p. 192; Corbin, 1975, p. 523; Corbin 1983, p. 99; Daftary, p. 388).  On the other hand, first, in Sufi tafsīr the method is kashf (an unveiling to the heart of the interpreter)--contingent not on the Imam but variously on the grace of God, the spiritual capacity of the interpreter, and the degree of one's spiritual effort; and second, in Sufi tafsīr the object revealed is largely related to Sufi practice or to an ontological or anthropological aspect of Sufi doctrine but is not claimed to invalidate the exoteric meaning of the āya.  In spite of the often obfuscating criticism, even Sunni scholars such as Ghazālī (d. 505/1111), Ebn Qayyem Jawzīya (d. 751/1350), Shāṭebī (d. 790/1388),  and Saʿd-al-Dīn Taftazānī (d. 793/1390) accepted Sufi tafsīr as being legitimate as long as certain conditions were met (Gatje, pp. 228-230; Dhahabī, vol. 2, pp. 357-58, 366-369; Qaṭṭān 309-10).  One contemporary scholar even defended Solamī's Ḥaqāʾeq al-tafsīr (see below) against the charge of being Ismāʿīlī, stating that since Solamī did not deny the exoteric meaning of the Koran or declare it to be invalid, the Ḥaqāʾeq should not be considered to be among the works of the Ismāʿīlīs (bāṭenīya) (NoqrāSHī, p. 188).

            Although many Sufis wrote commentaries on individual sūras (such as Sūrat Yūsof) or particular āyas, this survey only covers the Sufi tafsīrs that are extant and that generally dealt with the whole of the Koran (although such commentaries would often omit a number of āya per sūra).  Furthermore, this article is limited to commentaries in Persian or the Iranian sphere and to other commentaries that either influenced or were influenced by such commentaries.  See Ateş (1974) for Sufi tafsīrs that are outside the scope of this essay.

            Based largely upon the analysis of Gerhard Böwering we can divide the history of Sufi Koran commentary into five phases (Böwering, 1991, pp. 42-43). The elementary phase, lasting from the 2nd/8th to the 4th/10th centuries, consists of two stages.  The first of these two stages Böwering terms that of the “forebears" of Sufi Koran commentary.  These are Ḥasan Baṣrī (d. 110/728), Jaʿfar Ṣādeq (d. 148/765), and Sofyān Thawrī (d. 161/778).  Of these three commentators, the most significant was the sixth Shiʿite Imam, Jaʿfar Ṣādeq, whose commentary (as recorded by Solamī [d.412/1021] ) was transmitted to his son, Imam Mūsā Kāẓem (d. 183/799), from him to his son, Imam ʿAlī Reḍā (d. 203/818), and from him through a chain of transmission to Solamī that Böwering has shown to be historically problematic (Böwering, 1991, p. 53-55; 1994, pp. 18-22; Nwyia, 1968).  

            The elementary phase in its second stage consists of Solamī's commentary and the following seven Sufis who, in addition to Jaʿfar Ṣādeq, were Solamī's primary sources:  Dhu'l-Nūn Meṣrī (d. 246/861), Sahl Tostarī (d. 283/896), Abū Saʿīd Kharrāz (d. 286/899), Jonayd (d. 298/910), Ebn ʿAṭāʾ Ādamī (d. 311/923), Abū Bakr Wāseṭī (d. 320/932), and Sheblī (d. 334/946).  Of these, it is possible that only Tostārī, Ebn ʿAṭāʾ, and Wāseṭī may have been compilers of separate Sufi Koran commentaries (Nwyia, 1973; Böwering, 1991, p. 42).   Tostarī's tafsīr, written in Arabic and published uncritically, is the only tafsīr of these authors to survive independently.   Böwering, in his thorough study of Tostarī's tafsīr, showed that its structure is comprised of three main levels: Tostarī's own commentary on Koranic verses, his statements and those of pre-Islamic prophets on various mystical subjects, and comments inserted into the tafsīr by later Sufis (Böwering, 1980, pp. 129-30). 

            Undoubtedly the most significant author of Sufi Koran commentary prior to the 6th/12th century is Solamī, without whose commentary almost the entirety of the Koran commentary of the first generations of Sufis would have been lost.   Solamī, whose full name was Abū ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Moḥammad b. Ḥosayn Azdī Solamī Naysābūrī, was a Shāfeʿī who around 325/937 (or 330/942) was born in Naysābūr, where he also died in 412/1021.  Böwering has published his edition of the unique manuscript of Solamī's minor commentary, Ziādāt Ḥaqāʾeq al-tafsīr (1995), and is currently editing his major commentary, the Ḥaqāʾeq al-tafsīr.  These commentaries--both of which are in Arabic and consist of esoteric commentary on selected verses of the Koran arranged in accordance with the Koran's traditional order--are almost entirely compilations of commentaries of earlier Sufis, whose names Solamī cited.  Ateş briefly discussed each of Solamī's seventy-four primary Sufi sources (1969, pp. 76-95).  Although Solamī's tafsīrs are essentially collections of the exegeses of other Sufis, his creative genius is evident in the fact that it is largely through his work that the Koranic commentaries of the early Sufis have been preserved.  Solamī himself stated that the very reason he composed his commentary was because he saw that authorities of the exoteric sciences (al-ʿolūm al-ẓawāher) had written much about the exoteric implications of the Koran, but that no one had collected the understanding of the Koran as expressed by the "folk of the Truth" (ahl al-ḥaqīqa), which is to say, by the Sufis (Ḥaqā'eq, f. 1b).   The tafsīrs most directly influenced by Solamī are those of Daylamī, Rūzbehān, and Gīsuderāz, which will be discussed below.  In addition, an influence of Solamī's tafsīr (of Sūrat al-Fāteḥa in the Ḥaqāʾeq) upon Shiʿite literature is seen in the Sharḥ Tawḥid al-Ṣadūq of Qāḍī Saʿīd Qommī (d. after 1107/1696) (pp. 626-635).  The overall importance of Solamī's commentaries has been highlighted by Böwering, who has asserted that Solamī's Ḥaqāʾeq is to Sufis what Ṭabarī's tafsīr is to the Sunni community as a whole and that Solamī's commentaries are as important to pre-sixth/twelfth c. Sufism as Ebn ʿArabī's major works are to later Sufism (Böwering, 1991, p. 56).

            The second phase of Sufi tafsīr, lasting from the fifth/eleventh to the seventh/thirteenth centuries, consists of three different forms: moderate Sufi commentaries, esoteric commentaries deeply indebted to Solamī, and commentaries written in Persian.  Moderate commentaries are those that include esoteric Sufi tafsīr as well as commentary based on transmissions (rewāyāt) from the Prophet, companions, and early commentators as well as discussion of syntax, grammar, historical context, feqh, and similar exoteric questions.  One work of the "moderate" form is al-Kashf wa-'l-bayān ʿan tafsīr al-Qorʾān of Abū Eṣḥāq Aḥmad b. Moḥammad b. Ebrāhīm thaʿlabī (d. 427/1035) (see Goldfeld), better known for his ʿArāʾes al-majāles fī qeṣaṣ al-anbiāʾ.  thaʿlabī, who had read the entirety of the Ḥaqāʾeq al-tafsīr to Solamī himself, included in his commentary not only Sufi eshārāt, but hadith, commentaries of the early Muslim generations, Esrāʾīlīyāt, and discussions of syntax and feqh.  Hence, Ateş considered it to be both an exoteric (ẓāher) and a Sufi esoteric (bāṭen) work (Ateş, 1974, p. 97).

            Another example of this "moderate" form is ʿAbd-al-Karīm Qoshayrī's (d. 465/1074) Laṭāʾef al-eshārāt, written in Arabic,  and examined to a degree by R. Ahmad (pp. 16-69) and by its modern editor, Basyūnī (Qoshayrī, vol. 1, pp. 3-37).  In the Laṭāʾef, Qoshayrī--who was a Shāfeʿī-- for the most part explicated the literal meaning of Koranic verses, although at times he discussed the esoteric meaning of an āya.  In spite of the fact that Qoshayrī, unlike Solamī,  did not cite earlier authorities, Ateş maintained that Qoshayrī frequently utilized Solamī's tafsīr, borrowing poetry from Solamī and contemplating Solamī's tafsīr while writing the Laṭāʿef (1974, p. 100).  In addition to the Laṭāʾef al-eshārāt, Qoshayrī wrote another Sufi commentary which is still in manuscript, "The Great Commentary" (al-Tafsīr al-kabīr), but which has briefly been discussed by Böwering (1989, p. 571). 

            A final example of "moderate" commentary of this period is the Arabic tafsīr, Noghbat al-bayān fī tafsīr al-Qorʾān of Shehāb-al-Dīn Abū ḤafṣʿOmar b. Moḥammad Sohrawardī (d. 632/1234), the famous Shāfeʿī author of the Sufi manual ʿAwāref al-maʿāref.  It is extant only in manuscripts (Brockelmann, GAL, SI, p. 789, #4) --one of which was copied with the permission (ejāza) of Sohrawardī himself (Ateş, 1974, p. 161).   According to Ateş, Noghbat al-bayān is largely an exotericly oriented tafsīr, although to a certain extent it does deal with asceticism (zohd) (Ateş, 1974, p. 162).

            What distinguishes the second form of Sufi commentary from other Sufi tafsīrs of the second phase or period is that both examples of the "second form" consist almost entirely of esoteric Sufi commentary; they cannot be considered to be part of a "school" of commentaries; and they were written in Arabic.  Taṣdīq al-maʿāref or, as it is also titled, Fotūḥ al-Raḥmān fī eshārāt al-Qorʾān was written by the little known Sunni Sufi, Abū Thābet ʿAbd-al-Mālek Daylamī (d. 598/1193) and was only recently discovered by Böwering (and is still unpublished).  Although commentary from Solamī's authorities in the Ḥaqāʾeq al-tafsīr comprises about half of Daylamī's tafsīr, Daylamī did not just directly import this material, but rather seems to have elaborated on it.  The source of the remaining half of the content of the Taṣdīq al-maʿāref is Daylamī himself (Böwering, 1987, p. 232). 

            The other tafsīr of the second form of the second phase, ʿArāʾes al-bayān fī ḥaqā'eq al-Qorʾān--written by the Shāfeʿī Sufi, Abū Moḥammad Rūzbehān b. Abī Naṣr Baqlī Shīrāzī (d. 606/1209)--is similar to Taṣdīq al-maʿāref in a number of ways, while also exhibiting some differences.  Like Daylamī's tafsīr, Rūzbehān's ʿArāʾes al-bayān is an esoteric Sufi tafsīr, written in Arabic, comprised almost equally of material from earlier tafsīrs and commentary from the author himself.  Among the differences between the two tafsīrs are that (in addition to using his own commentary) Rūzbehān directly borrowed from Solamī's two tafsīrs, quoting his authorities verbatim without any embellishment.  Consequently, ʿArāʾes al-bayān became the primary vehicle for the transmission of much of Solamī's Ziādāt for nine-hundred years (until Böwering's recent discovery and publication of the Ziādāt); and the ʿArāʾes is the only major witness to the unique manuscript of the Ziādāt.  A second significant difference between Daylamī's tafsīr and that of Rūzbehān is that Rūzbehān included much Sufi material from Qoshayrī's Laṭāʾef al-eshārāt in the ʿArāʾes; while Daylamī apparently did not utilize Qoshayrī as a source (Böwering, 1987, p. 232).  A final point concerning the ʿArāʾes al-bāyan  is that although it was published in lithograph, it is rare and riddled with significant errors.  Hence Ṣalāḥ-al-Dīn Ṣāwī began an edition, which is now being followed by Godlas, who, after having located sixty-five manuscripts, is working on a critical edition, translation, and study of its entirety (Godlas, 1991, p. 33; 1996, p. 31, and forthcoming).   

            The third form of the second phase consists of the two Persian commentaries of Maybodī  (d. 530/1135) and Darwājikī (d. 549/1154-55).  The first of these, Abu'l-Faḍl Rashīd-al-Dīn Maybodī's published tafsīr, Kashf al-asrār wa-ʿoddat al-abrār, is known as the commentary of the Khwājah ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣārī (d. 481/1089) (a Ḥanbalī), since it contains much of Anṣārī's esoteric commentary.  Nevertheless, Maybodī (a Shāfeʿī) added his own esoteric commentary, extensive traditional tafsīr be'l-rewāya, and other exoteric commentary on matters such as variant readings, feqh, contexts of revelation (asbāb al-nozūl), and related hadith, in addition to a literal translation of the Koranic Arabic into Persian.  The literature on Kashf al-asrār has been surveyed by Masarrat (1374 ˆ./1995) and papers delivered at a conference on Maybodī were edited by Pindarī (1374/1995).

            There is some confusion concerning the name of Darwājikī and the title of his unpublished Persian tafsīr, which appears to have been composed in Bukhara in the year 519/1125 (Storey, I/1, p. 4).  Böwering only lists the nesba, Darwājikī, along with his death date, 549/1154 (Böwering, 1991, p. 42).  Storey at first listed his name as Abū Naṣr Aḥmad b. Ḥasan b. Aḥmad Solaymān and noted that he was "commonly called 'Zāhedī' " (Storey, I/1, p. 4).  Later, Storey gave a few possibilities for his name and nesba (including Darwājikī) but noted that a ms. discussed by Ritter provided a nearly identical author's name--Abū Naṣr Aḥmad b. Ḥasan b. Aḥmad--whose nesba was tentatively "Daranī" and whose death was in 549/1154-55 (Storey, I/2, p 1190).  Various titles given to the tafsīr are Tafsīr-e Zāhedī, Tafsīr-e Sayf-al-Dīn, Laṭāʾef al-tafsīr (Storey, I/1, p. 4 and I/2, p. 1190) and Tafsīr-e Zāhed, Tafsīr-e DRwāJkī, and Laṭāʾef al-tafāsīr (Nāserī and Dānesh Pazhūh, p. 218).  Storey listed a number of manuscripts (most of which are partial) and also noted that a characteristic of this tafsīr is the reoccurrence of the Arabic phrase, Qāla al-Shaykh al-emām al-zāhed (the shaikh, the ascetic, the leader [or the ascetic leader] said) (Storey, I/1, p. 1190). 

            The third phase of Sufi commentary, written from the beginning of the seventh/thirteenth to the middle of the eighth/fourteenth century, consists of what Böwering has termed the commentaries of Sufi "schools," most importantly those of Najm-al-Dīn Kobrā (Abu'l-Jannāb Aḥmad b. ʿOmar)(d. 618/1221) and Moḥyi'l-Dīn Ebn ʿArabī (d. 638/1240) (Böwering, 1991, p. 42-43).  One of the most urgent needs in the scholarship of Sufi tafsīr is the publication of the collective tafsīr of the Kobrāwīya tradition, often known as the al-Taʾwīlāt al-najmīya.  In the most recent examination of the problematic authorship of this tafsīr, J. Elias concluded that Najm-al-Dīn Kobrā (a Shāfeʿī from Khwārazm) may have written the first part--from the beginning of the Koran to Sūrat al-DHāriāt 51:19--entirely by himself.  It is also possible that his disciple Najm-al-Dīn Rāzī Dāya (d. 654/1256) may have written part of it.  The first part--containing both exoteric and esoteric tafsīr-- has been variously titled ʿAyn al-ḥayāt, al-ʿAwāref, and Baḥr al-ḥaqāʾeq (Dhahabī, vol. 2, p. 395; Elias, 1995, pp. 204-5).  Nevertheless, Baḥr al-haqāʾeq also appears to have been the title of a different tafsīr written by Najm-al-Dīn Rāzī (Ateş, pp. 142-44; William Shpall, 1981-84; Süleymāniye: ms. Hasan Hüsnü #37 mokarrar). Elias has demonstrated, however, that ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla Semnānī (d. 736/1336) wrote a distinct commentary, one of the names of which is Tafsīr Najm al-Qorʾān and which is entirely esoteric.  It begins with Sūrat al-Ṭūr (Sūrat 52) and covers the remainder of the Koran, although it is prefaced by a long introduction and commentary on the Fāteḥa and in various mss. begins when the tafsīr of Kobrā/Rāzī leaves off (Elias, 1995, pp. 203-212; Dhahabī, p. 395).  The introduction was edited by Nwyia (1973-77, pp. 141-57) and studied by Corbin (1978, pp. 121-44).  Elias edited various excerpts of Semnānī's tafsīr, basing his edition on two related mss., one of which was collated with Semnānī's own copy (1991, pp. 281-321).  Elias also discussed Semnānī's understanding of the Koran--which he explicitly expresses in his tafsīr--noting that according to Semnānī one can become transformed into a mirror for Divine attributes by contemplating the Qorʾān (Elias, 1995, pp. 107-110).

            Another tafsīr related to the Kobrawī school is that of the Shāfeʿī scholar Neẓām-al-Dīn Ḥasan b. Moḥammad b. Ḥosayn Qommī Naysābūrī (d. 728/1327, but this is problematic).  Although his tafsīr, Tafsīr Gharāʾeb al-Qorʾān wa-raghāʾeb al-forqān (which has been published), is largely a traditional exoteric tafsīr, it includes significant Sufi commentary, most of which--as the author himself stated-- came from Najm-al-Dīn Rāzī Dāya (Naysābūrī, vol. 30, p. 223; Ayāzī p. 528; Dhahabī, vol. 1, p. 321).  Zarqānī noted that after Naysābūrī discussed the exoteric meaning (ẓāher maʿnā) of an āya, he would write, "The people of 'allusion' (eshāra) say..."  Or, he simply wrote "al-taʾwīl" and thereafter explicated the esoteric meaning (al-maʿnā al-eshārī) of the āya (Zarqānī, vol. 2, pp. 82).  M. Ayoub has translated excerpts of the Sufi component of Naysābūrī's tafsīr (1981, vol. 1,  and 1992, vol. 2).

            Ebn ʿArābīʾs school of Koran commentary, influenced mainly by Moḥyi'l-Dīn Ebn ʿArabī's writings and to a lesser degree by his predecessor Ebn Barrajān, was continued by Qāshānī and Ṣafadī (Böwering, 1991, p. 43), although the connection of Safadī to this school is problematic.  These tafsīrs consist of independently composed commentaries that nevertheless are united by their common usage of Ebn ʿArabī's terms and concepts.  According to Ateş--who described various mss. of the tafsīr of ʿAbd-al-Salām b. ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Abu'l-Ḥakam Eshbīlī, known as Ebn Barrajān (d. 536/1141) (d. 536/1141)--the tafsīr of Ebn Barrajān greatly influenced Ebn ʿArabī (Ateş, 1974, pp. 130-31).  In addition, Ateş argued that a partial commentary--from Sūrat Yūnus (10) to Sūrat al-Ṭūr (52) --by Ebn ʿArabī is extant (ms. Şehid ʿAlī Paşa #62) and that it was a model for the commentary of Qāshānī (Ateş, 1974, pp. 178-79, 187-88).  If Ateş has indeed correctly identified Ebn ʿArabī as the author of this manuscript, its publication is another of the major needs of the field. 

            Böwering noted that the tafsīr of Ṣafadī (d. 696/1296)--whose full name was Jamāl-al-Dīn Yūsof b. Helāl b. (?) Abi 'l-Barakāt Ḥalabī Ḥanafī Abu'l-Faḍāʾel Ṣafadī--was influenced by Ebn ʿArabī's school of thought (1991, p. 43).  Ateş demonstrated that this unpublished tafsīr, the title of which is Kashf al-asrār fī hatk al-astār, had been mistakenly attributed to Ebn ʿArabī himself (Ateş, 1974, p. 197).  Although Ateş, in the table of contents of İşārī tefsīr okulu, lists Ṣafadī's tafsīr as being among those that were influenced by the "unity of being" (waḥdat al-wojūd) (which is an important doctrine of Ebn ʿArabī's "school"), later, however, in his discussion of Ṣafadī's exegetical method, Ateş concluded by stating that Ṣafadī's tafsīr did not exhibit the characteristics of the "unity of being" (Ateş, 1974, p. 202). 

            In contrast to Ṣafadī, the tafsīr of ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Qāshānī (d. 730/1330) clearly exhibits the influence of the "unity of being."  This is a major reason why even to this day Qāshānī's tafsīr is known as the "Tafsīr of Ebn ʿArabī" (ed.  GHāleb, 1401/1981).  Studied by Pierre Lory (1980), excerpts of this tafsīr have been translated into English by Ayoub (1981, vol. 1, and 1992 vol. 2).  The most recent contribution to the tafsīrs of the "school" of Ebn ʿArabī is a contemporary collection  of Ebn ʿArabī's Sufi exegeses found throughout his works and compiled by M. GHorāb (Ayāzī, pp. 464-69).

            The commentaries written in India and in regions ruled by the Ottomans and Timurids, comprise the fourth phase of Sufi tafsīr, the period from the ninth/fifteenth to the twelfth/eighteenth century.  Of all the Sufi tafsīrs written during this period, the tafsīrs of Gīsūderāz, Kāshefī,  Nakhjewānī, Aziz Mahmūd Hüdāyī, and Esmāʿīl Ḥaqqī Bursawī, are the most noteworthy.  Although the Naqshbandīs KHhājah Moḥammad Pārsā (d. 822/1419) and Yaʿqūb Ùarkhī (d. 851/1447) wrote tafsīrs that contain some Sufi content, these did not cover the whole of the Koran and so will not be dealt with here.

            The great Chestī shaikh, Sayyed Abu'l-Fatḥ Moḥammad b. Yūsof Ḥosaynī, a Ḥanafī, known as Khwājah Bandah'nawāz and most particularly by his ancestral name of Gīsūderāz (long hair) (d. 825/1422), spent his life in Delhi and the Deccan during the periods of Tughlaq and Bahmanid rule and wrote a still unpublished Sufi tafsīr (almost entirely in Arabic) that deals largely with Sufi themes (in contrast to the assertion of M. Sālem Qedwāʾī) (Hussaini, p. 20, citing Qedwāʾī, pp. 174-76).  It is similar in structure to but not dependent upon the ʿArāʾes al-bayān; which is to say that like Rūzbehān, Gīsūderāz cited numerous verbatim passages directly from Solamī's Ḥaqāʾeq al-tafsīr (which he indicates by “Ḥaqāʾeq”) and from Qoshayrī's Laṭāʾef al-eshārāt (indicated by "Laṭāʾef") and included significant commentary that is apparently his own--commentary which is preceded by the designation “al-multaqaṭ” (unexpectedly found thing).  Hussaini briefly discussed the tafsīr and the manuscripts, one nearly complete and one partial manuscript of which are extant in the India Office (#109-111), while a partial copy is held in Lucknow (Hussaini, pp. 11-13, 20, 39; Loth, p. 24).

            The well-known author, Kamāl-al-Dīn Ḥosayn b. ʿAlī Wāʿeẓ-e Kāshefī (d. 910/1504-5 in Herat), wrote the Persian Koran commentary Mawāheb-e ʿalīya, which is also known as the Tafsīr-e Hosaynī.   Although Mawāheb-e ʿalīya (uncritically published in 1938) is largely a translation and exoteric commentary on the Koran, it has a significant and evocative Sufi component.  In spite of the fact that Kāshefī (who was the brother-in-law of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmī and father of Fakhr-al-Dīn ʿAlī Ṣāfī, the author of the Naqshbandī hagiography Rashaḥāt ʿayn al-ḥayāt ) was a prominent figure in Timurid Herat and an initiate in the Sunni Naqshbandī order, the question of his madòhab is problematic.  Some sources stated that he was a Ḥanafī, others a Shāfeʿi, and still others a Shiʿite.  Whatever the case may be, his tafsīr (completed 899/1494) is described as being written in the style of the “ahl-e sonnat va-jamāʿat” (folk of the Sunna and congregation) and does not exhibit Shiʿite characteristics (Nāʾīnī, preface, pp. 13-21, 79).  There are three kinds of Sufi materials that Kāshefī cites in Mawāheb-e ʿalīya: earlier Sufi tafsīrs, general Sufi prose treatises, and Persian Sufi poetry.  Most of the Sufi material in the tafsīr derives from the Sufi comentaries of Solamī, Qoshayrī, Anṣārī/Maybodī, and the Kobrawī school, although he occasionally cites other Sufi tafsīrs such as that of Qāshānī and possibly Darwājikī (referred to by "al-Zāhed").  Among the Persian Sufi poets he frequently cites are Jalāl-al-Dīn Rūmī, Sanāʾī, and KHhājah ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣārī.  He also quotes from a number of other Sufi texts, among them being Ebn ʿArabī's al-Fotūḥāt al-Makkīya and a variety of works of Jāmī.

            Neʿmat-Allāh b. Maḥmūd Nakhjewānī (Nakhjowānī) (d. 920/1514), a Ḥanafī Naqshbandī shaikh, wrote in Arabic the Sufi tafsīr (published in 1325/1907) titled al-Fawāteḥ al-elāhīya wa-al-mafāteḥ al-ghaybīya.  Originally from Nakhjewān in Azerbaijan, Bābā Neʿmat-Allāh or Shaikh ʿAlwān (as he was also known) completed his tafsīr in 902/1497 in Tabriz, and from there emigrated to Akşehir in Anatolia, where he spent the last sixteen years of his life and where his grave was well-known.  He did not cite any other Sufi tafsīrs and appears to have written al-Fawāteḥ al-elāhīya without consulting any sources.  Although he commented on every āya of the Koran, the vast majority of his exegesis consists of brief traditional exoteric commentary clarifying the meaning of words.   Nevertheless, in a substantial introduction to the tafsīr, at the beginning and end of every sūra, and periodically throughout his tafsīr, Nakhjewānī included Sufi-oriented material involving the terminology and concepts of the school of Ebn ʿArabī (Nakhjewānī, pp. ii (preface) and pp. 2-3; Ayāzī, pp. 563-566).

            Aziz Mahmud Hüdāyī (1038/1628), the prolific Turkish shaikh of the Jelwatī Sufi order, who lived most of his adult life in Uskudar (across the Bosporus from Istanbul), gave discourses on the Koran that after his death were composed into a tafsīr titled Nafāʾes al-majāles.  Written in Arabic (but still unpublished), for the most part this tafsīr consists of exoteric commentary interspersed at times with Sufi commentary dealing with aspects of the Sufi path such as asceticism (zohd), "consciousness of God" (taqwā), and "passing away in God" (fanāʾ fi'llāh).  Although it has been asserted that Hüdāyī wrote his tafsīr without referring to any other tafsīrs, Ateş observed the influence of Solamī on at least a part of the Nafāʾes (H. Yélmaz, 111; Ateş, p. 231). 

            The most extensive and comprehensive of all the Sufi tafsīrs written during this period is Rūḥ al-bayān, by Esmāʿīl Ḥaqqī Bursawī (d. 1137/1725), a prolific scholar, who like Hüdāyī was a Sufi shaikh of the Jelwatī order.  A Ḥanafī, Esmāʿīl Ḥaqqī lived most of his life in Istanbul and Bursa.  Rūḥ al-bayān (which has been published both in Turkey and in the Arab world), written largely in Arabic, has both traditional exoteric and Sufi dimensions.  Its significance for the Iranian world lies primarily in the fact that Ḥaqqī often quoted from the tafsīrs of the Kobrawī school, as well as from Solamī, Qoshayrī,  Ebn ʿArabī/Qāshānī, Rūzbehān, and Kāshefī.  Furthermore, into his tafsīr he weaves Persian poetry from the likes of Ḥāfeẓ, Saʿdī, Rūmī,  and ʿAṭṭār.  Rūḥ al-bayān is similar to Kāshefī's Mawāheb-e ʿalīya, only more massive and with a greater emphasis on Sufi tafsīr.

            The final period in the history of Sufi tafsīr, from the thirteenth/nineteenth c. until today, includes the tafsīrs of Ebn ʿAjība, Pānīpatī, Alūsī, Solṭān ʿAlī Shāh, Ṣafī ʿAlī Shāh, and Mollā ḤowaySH.  First of all, Aḥmad b. ʿAjība (d. 1224/1809), a Moroccan Sufi, was the author of the tafsīr titled al-Baḥr al-madīd fī tafsīr al-Qorʾān al-majīd.   Only two volumes of the tafsīr (until Sūrat al-Aʿrāf 7:9) ever appeared in print (Ebn ʿAjība, 1375/1955 and 1376/1956).  Largely neglected by scholars of tafsīr, al-Baḥr al-madīd nevertheless contains significant Sufi commentary.  Ebn ʿAjība, an initiate of the Darqāwī order, stated that he combined in his tafsīr "both the explanations (ʿebāra) of the exoterics (ahl al-ẓāher) with the allusions (eshāra) of the esoterics (ahl al-bāṭen)" (Ebn ʿAjība, 1410/1990, pp. 38-39; French translation by Michon, 1968, vol. 15, p. 40)  Although most of the Sufi sources of his tafsīr are from the Maghreb, Andalūs, or Egypt, in his tafsīr he also quotes from Iranian scholars such as Qoshayrī and Rūzbehān.  Ebn ʿAjība's quotations from Rūzbehān have gone unnoticed because Ebn ʿAjība referred to him as "al-WRTJBĪ" (Godlas, forthcoming; and Michon, 1973, p. 275).

            The tafsīr of Pānīpatī, titled Tafsīr al-Maẓharī, was written in Arabic by Qāḍī thanāʾ-Allāh ʿOthmānī Fānī Fatī (Pānīpatī) Ḥanafī Naqshbandī (d. 1225/1810) and has been published in 10 volumes.  Both Böwering and Ayāzī regard Pānīpatī's tafsīr as a Sufi tafsīr, and Ayāzī also groups it among the Sufi tafsīrs that use the hermeneutics of allusion (al-eshārī) (Böwering, 1991, p. 43;  Ayāzī, pp. 833, 850).  Nevertheless, Ayāzī states that in spite of the fact that Qāḍī  thanāʾ-Allāh (who lived most of his life in the North Indian state of Haryana) was a Naqshbandī Sufi in the lineage of Aḥmad Sirhindī, his tafsīr consists almost entirely of exoteric commentary and only rarely deals with "esoteric matters" (romūz) and "mystical allusions" (eshārāt) (Ayāzī, p. 366). 

            Shehāb-al-Dīn Alūsī, one of the most important nineteenth century Iraqi scholars, was the author of the Arabic Koran commentary Rūḥ al-maʿānī fī tafsīr al-Qorʾān al-ʿaẓīm wa-sabʿ al-mathānī.  Abu'l-thanā Shehāb-al-Dīn Sayyed Maḥmūd b. ʿAbd-Allāh Ḥosaynī Alūsī Baghdādī lived most of his life in Baghdad, where he died in 1270/1854.  Affiliated with the Naqshbandī ṭarīqa of Mawlānā KHāled Baghdādī, he was the mufti of Baghdad for a number of years and was regarded as the shaikh of the scholars of Iraq (Dhahabī, 1967, v. 1, 352-53; EI2, s.v. "Alūsī").  Some sources assert that he was a Shāfeʿī, others, however, maintain that he was a Ḥanafī (Ateş, 1974, p. 250).  Although his massive tafsīr deals largely with exoteric matters, it does indeed have a significant Sufi component, one that is often introduced by the phrase "men bāb al-eshāra" (from the domain of allusion).   A biographer of Alūsī has stated that among the Sufi commentators upon whom Alūsī relied were Ebn ʿArabī,  Tostarī, and Esmāʿīl Ḥaqqī (ʿAbd-al-Ḥamīd, pp. 207-9).  In addition, Alūsī relied upon Rūzbehān.  This, however, had gone unnoticed because Alūsī --on numerous occasions without attribution-- quoted the ʿArāʾes verbatim or creatively integrated passages from it into his tafsīr  (Godlas, forthcoming). 

            Ḥājjī Mīrzā Ḥasan Eṣfahānī, known as Ṣafī ʿAlī Shāh (d. 1317/1899), wrote his unique Sufi tafsīr in Persian poetry. Titled simply Tafsīr-e Qorʾān, it has been published in one large-size volume.  Regarded as one of the nineteenth century's premier poets, Ṣafī ʿAlī Shāh was a Shiʿite Sufi shaikh of a branch of the Neʿmatallāhī order known as the Ṣafī ʿAlī Shāhī or Ṣafāʾīya order, an order that was closely connected to the Qājār court (Pourjavady and Wilson, pp. 252-53).  In his tafsīr, written entirely in Persian rhymed couplets (mathnawī), Ṣafī ʿAlī Shāh dealt with conventional exoteric subjects (such as various Koranic narratives) but also frequently linked the Koran to explications of Sufi metaphysics and the Sufi path.

            Solṭān Moḥammad b. Ḥaydar Moḥammad b. Solṭān Moḥammad Jonābādòī (Gonābādī) (d. 1327/1909), a Shiʿite Sufi known as Solṭān ʿAlī Shāh, was the author of the published Arabic Koran commentary Bayān al-saʿāda fī maqāmāt al-ʿebāda (Ayāzī, p. 212).  Originally from Bīdokht, a village in the vicinity of Gonābād (Iran), Ṣolṭān ʿAlī Shāh was a shaikh in the Gonābādī branch of the Neʿmatallāhī Sufi order.  In his tafsīr, Solṭān ʿAlī Shāh included exoteric commentary as well as Sufi commentary.  Although Āghā Bozorg Tehrānī stated that Solṭān ʿAlī Shāh had been accused of plagiarism, Ayāzī has refuted these allegations (Ayāzī,  pp. 214-15; Pourjavady and Wilson, p. 252).

            ʿAbd-al-Qāder b. Sayyed Moḥammad ḤowaySH b. Maḥmūd Āl Ghāzī ʿĀnī, also known as Mollā Ḥowaysh, was the author of the Koran commentary Bayān al-maʿānī ʿalā ḥasab tartīb al-nozūl.  Mollā Ḥowaysh, an Ashʿarī Ḥanafī, did not compose this Arabic tafsīr in accordance with the traditional ordering of the sūras.  Instead, he arranged his tafsīr according to the chronological order of revelation.  The tafsīr, written in 1355/ 1936-37 (and published in 1384/1964-65), consists of both exoteric and Sufi material.  Among the Sufi tafsīrs on which the author relies are those of Ebn ʿArabī/Qāshānī, Nakhjewānī, Esmāʿīl Ḥaqqī, and Alūsī.  In addition, Mollā Ḥowaysh utilized well-known general Sufi works such as Qoshayrī's Resāla, Ghazāli's Eḥyā ʿolūm al-dīn, Abū Najīb Sohrawardī's ʿAwāref al-maʿāref, and ʿAbd-al-Karīm Jīlī's al-Ensān al-kāmel, as well as two late Naqshbandi works, Shaikh Moḥammad b. ʿAbd-Allāh b. Moṣṭafā KHānī's (d. 1279/1862) al-Bahjat al-sanīya fī ādāb al-ṭarīqat al-Naqshbandīya, and Asʿad b. Maḥmūd Ṣāḥeb Naqshbandī Khāledī's (d. 1347/1928) Nūr al-hedāya wa'l-ʿerfān fī serr al-rābeṭā wa'l-tawajjoh wa-khatm al-Khwājakān (Ayāzī, 218-221).

            Professor Böwering has stated that with the coming of the thirteenth/ nineteenth century, the genre of Sufi tafsīr began "a phase of certain decline that seems to continue today" (Böwering, 1991, p. 43).  Nevertheless, because we now know of three tafsīrs composed in this final phase that Böwering did not mention (those of Ebn ʿAjība, Ṣafī ʿAlī Shāh, and Mollā Ḥowaysh), it seems prudent to abandon the assessment that this recent phase of Sufi tafsīr is characterized by "certain decline."  In addition, as more Sufi tafsīrs become published and translated into various languages, this will make them available to large audiences for the first time.  Hence, it is certainly possible, if not probable, that this will bring about both an increase in the appreciation of Sufi tafsīrs as well as an increase in the production of them.  One obstacle to this, however, is the current tendency in Western scholarship to minimize the importance of critical editions of texts.  It is hoped that scholars will realize that without such editions, our efforts to understand Sufi tafsīr will remain severely impaired.

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Idem,  “Muqaddemat tafsīr al-Qorʾān li-ʿAlāʾ al-Dawla Simnānī,” al-Abḥāt¯, vol. 26 [1973-77], pp. 141-57.

 

 Y. Pindarī, Zabān-e ahl-e eshārat, Tehran, 1374 ˆ./1995.

 

N. Pourjavady and P. L. Wilson, Kings of Love, Tehran, 1978.

 

ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Qāshānī,  Tafsīr al-Qorʾān al-karīm lil-ˆaykh al-akbar al-ʿāref bellāh al-ʿallāma Moḥyi'l-Dīn Ebn ʿArabī, ed. M. GHālib, 2 vols., 3rd printing, Beirut, 1401/1981.

 

M. Qaṭṭān, Mabāḥeth fī ʿolūm al-Qorʾān, Riāḍ, 1391/1971.

 

M. Sālem Qedwāʾī, “Sayyid Muḥammad Gīsūdirāz awr unkī Tafsīr-e Multaqaṭ,” Borhān, vol. 56 (1966), pp. 168-76 (cited by Hussaini).

 

Qāḍī Saʿīd Qommī, Sharḥ Tawḥid al-Ṣadūq, ed. N. Ḥabībī, Tehran, 1373 ˆ./1994.

 

Abu'l-Qāsem ʿAbd-al-Karīm Qoshayrī,  Laṭāʾef al-eshārāt,  ed. E. Basyūnī, 3 vols., Cairo, 1971.

 

Ṣ. Ṣāwī,  Edition and Persian Translation of Suras 1-3 of ʿArāʾes al-bayān (based on four mss.) (actual title unknown), Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Tehran, Tehran, nd.

 

William Shpall, “A Note on Najm-al-Dīn al-Rāzī and the Baḥr al-ḥaqāʾiq,” Folia Orientalia, vol. 22, 1981-84, pp. 69-80.

 

Storey, C. A., Persian Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey, London, vol. 1, pt. 1, 1927-1939, reprint 1989; and vol. 1, pt. 2, 1953, reprint 1972.

 

Abū ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Moḥammad b. Ḥosayn Solamī, Ḥaqā'eq al-tafsīr, ms. Baladīya (Alexandria, Egypt) #1018b.

 

Abū Esḥāq Aḥmad b. Moḥammad b. Ebrāhīm thaʿlabī,  Kashf wa'l-bayān ʿan tafsīr al-Qorʾān, apparently published in Istanbul, 1931 (see ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān, vol. 1, p. 428).

 

Sahl b. ʿAbd-Allāh Tostarī, Tafsīr al-Qorʾān al-ʿaẓīm, Cairo, 1329/1911.

 

P. Walker, Early Philosophical Shiism, Salt Lake City, 1993.

 

Idem, The Wellsprings of Wisdom, Cambridge (UK), 1994.

 

H. Yélmaz, Aziz Mahmūd Hüdâyi ve Celvetiyye Tarikaté, Istanbul, 1980.

 

M. Zarqānī, Manāhel al-ʿerfān fī ʿolūm al-Qorʾān, 2 vols., Cairo, 1362/1943.