Islamo-Biblica in Sunni post Tabari Tafsir Literatures IV



Islamo-Biblica in Tafsir ("Qur'an Commentary") Literatures III.

Stephen Lambden

In progress and under revision and completion, 1980s+

Select Sunnī post-Tabari  Tafsīr  works.

Tafsīr  of  al‑Tha`labī (al‑Nīsābūrī, d. 427/ 1035).

Bypassing  many Arabic and Persian tafsīr   works, mention should be made of the still largely unpublished Tafsīr  of  al‑Tha`labī (al‑Nīsābūrī, d. 427/ 1035) entitled al‑Kashf wa’l‑bayān `an tafsīr  al‑Qur’ān  (`The Unveiling of the Exposition of the Commentary on the Qur’ān) which has been highly praised by Muslim scholars and biographers (Goldfield, 1981:134). Like Tha`labī’s better known `Arā’is al‑majālis fī qiṣaṣ al‑anbiyā’ (see Ch. 4.2)  it  contains much representative of the early tafsīr  tradition and thus much Isrā’Iīliyyāt, which to some degree perhaps accounts for its remaining unpublished.1

1 Only indirectly in the Egyptian (Būlaq) edition of 1294/ 1877 (and later editions) has it apparently been made partially, indirectly available through the condensed version of the Shā’fi`ī traditionist and commentator Muḥyī al‑Sunna al‑Baghawī (d. 526/1117) entitled Mu`ālim al‑tanzīl ( `Instruction in the Revelation ’;  4 vol. ed. Beirut:Dār al‑Kutub  al‑`Ilmiyya, 1414/1993).

Islamo-biblica in Tafsir and related writings of Abū Ḥamid al‑Ghazālī (d.555 /1111)

 Abū Ḥamīd al‑Ghazālī (d.555 /1111)  wrote a massive, now lost  Q.  commentary, Yaqūt al‑ta`wīl  (The Ruby of Spiritual Hermeneutics; so Habil, 1987:320‑3) and other works important in the evolution of Q. Commentary. His famous Mishkat al‑anwār (The Niche of Lights) is largely an interpretation of the `Light verse’ (Q. 24:35) and the `verse of darkness’ (Q. 24:40) along with the associated ḥadīth of the seventy thousand veils. It may be gathered from BA*s Haft ‑Vādī  (Seven Valleys c.1858) and other works  that from the late 1850s he had  some familiarity with Sunnī and  Sufi exegetes including al‑Ghazālī.2

Fakhr al‑Dīn al‑Rāzī (d. 606/1209).

            Fakhr al‑Dīn al‑Rāzī (d. 606/1209) wrote an important rationalist Tafsī r   work, variously entitled Mafātīḥ al‑ghayb.. (Keys of the Unseen) and al‑Tafsīr al‑Kabīr  (The Extensive Commentary). It incorporates multi‑layered theological and rationalist philosophical speculations on qur’ānic verses and has been examined by a number of scholars interested in Judaeo‑Christian and biblical matters (e.g IsChr. 4 :249 no. 31.1). Al‑Rāzī’s first‑hand use of the Bible, especially the Gospel of John, has been noted. More than a century ago Goldziher gave examples of his citation of Islamicate biblical texts. These citations include a woe of God / Jesus (allegedly contained in sūrah 17 of the Injīl ,  Gospel) against such as seek knowledge (`ilm)  but who are unable to differentiate it from ignorance (al‑jahhāl).  The following statement of Jesus is cited in al‑Rāzī’s Tafsīr  from Muqātil b. Sulaymān (see below):

O Jesus! Magnify the learned (`ulamā’)  and be conscious of their distinction for it is I [God] who has magnified them above all my creatures, apart, that is, from the prophets (al‑nabiyyīn) and the sent messengers (al‑mursalīn). This  even as the distinction of the sun above the stars, the hereafter (al‑ākhirā)  compared to this world (al‑dunyā’) and my distinction above everything that exists (Mafātīḥ 1:403ff cited Goldziher, 1878:384‑5; cf. Margoliouth, ERE 9:482).

Fakhr al‑Dīn al‑Rāzī was among those who denied the whole scale textual corruption  (taḥrīf)  of the biblical books. For him taḥrīf was a hermeneutical misunderstanding, a distortion of ma`ānī, ("meaning") not a textual alteration.

`Abd‑Allāh b.`Umar al‑Dīn al‑Baḍāwī (d. c.700/1300)

            Born to the north of Shīrāz at Bayḍā’, the polymathic  Sunnī  traditionalist `Abd‑Allāh b.`Umar al‑Dīn al‑Baḍāwī (d.c.700/1300) produced a well‑known condensed though critical reworking of the influential Q. commentary of the Mu`tazilite exegete and philologist Abū al‑Qasīm al‑Zamaksharī (d. 538/1144).1 In this commentary al‑Baḍawī shows an occasional knowledge of biblical data. In his commentary on the third sūra of the Q, for example, he makes use of the Matthean genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:1‑17).  

            1 Only indirectly in the Egyptian (Būlaq) edition of 1294/ 1877 (and later editions) has it apparently been made partially, indirectly available through the condensed version of the Shā’fi`ī traditionist and commentator Muḥyī al‑Sunna al‑Baghawī (d. 526/1117) entitled Mu`ālim al‑tanzīl ( `Instruction in the Revelation ’;  4 vol. ed. Beirut:Dār al‑Kutub  al‑`Ilmiyya, 1414/1993).

     2 See further Abdurrahman Habil’s chapter `Tradition Esoteric Commentaries on the Quran’ where important figures of the `Central Asian School of Najm al‑Dīn Kubra’ are mentioned (1987:33).

     1 Abū al‑Qasīm al‑Zamaksharī’s  influential and  linguistically profound rationalist commentary was entited al‑Kashshāf `an Ḥaqā’iq  (The Disclosure  of Realities).

Sunnī Abū al‑Thanā’, Shihāb al‑Dīn al‑Ālūsī (d.1270 /1854)

  Before concluding this section mention should be made of the huge and widely‑respected early 19th century commentary of  the `Alīd  Sunnī Abū al‑Thanā’, Shihāb al‑Dīn al‑Ālūsī (d.1270 /1854) entitled Rūḥ al‑ma`āni fī tafsīr al‑qur’ān al‑`aẓīm.. (The Spirit of the Meaning in Commentary upon the Mighty Qur’ān).2 A one‑time muftī  of Baghdad, Ālūsī  was aware of both early Shaykhism and Bābism. Sayyid Kāẓim Rashtī the second Shaykhī leader (see Ch. 6.1f) appears to have corresponded with him (Fihrist:323 No. 256; Nicolas, Essai II:35 no. 100). Though Ālūsī condemned Bābī heresy at the time of the trial of Mullā `Alī Bastāmī (d. Istanbul, 1846), the Bāb invited him to embrace his religion in an Arabic letter written  from Mākū (1848) in which he claimed divinity and to be the awaited Mahdī:  "I, verily, am God, no God is there except I myself, I manifested myself on the Day of Resurrection... I am the Mahdī" (Zā’im al‑Dawlā, Miftāḥ, 212‑15). For a few months in the early 1850s, Alūsī accommodated under house arrest the learned and revolutionary female Bābī, Fāṭima Baraghānī, better known as Ṭāhira (d.1270/1852)  who may also have had a role in the evolution of Bābī‑ Bahā’ī missions to the Jews its emergent bible exegesis (Āyatī, Kawākib 1:118;  Mazandarānī,  ZH 6:703‑4).  Ālūsī’s commentary and other writings apparently contain  passing reference to the first two Shaykhī leaders  as well as to the Bāb  and Ṭāhira whom he is said to have greatly admired (cf. Noghabā’ī,1983:137).1

 The Rūḥ al‑ma`ānī   is a wide‑ranging compendium of pre‑19th century Islamic tafsīr  works.  While isnād   details are registered sparingly select Shī`ī and some mystical perspectives are sometimes recorded.  Al‑Alūsī’s occasionally modernistic commentary shows some knowledge of the Bible. It exhibits a traditional yet ecumenical viewpoint registering a wide range of opinions (Smith, 1970:2251‑9).

 Considerable attention is paid by al‑Alūsī to theological aspects of Isrā’īliyyāt traditions related by such persons as have been mentioned above (see Ch. 1.1f below). The story of Moses’ request to see God (Q. 7:143), for example, is discussed at length (Rūḥ 5:43‑52). Attention to detail is evident in the comments upon the alwāḥ  (Tablets) which God gave to Moses on Sinai  (al‑ṭūr).   Expounding the words, "And We wrote from him [Moses] upon the alwāḥ (Tablets) something of everything (min kulla shay’ ; Q. 7:145a) Alūsī records various opinions as to the number of alwāḥ, their jawhar (substance), their miqdā r ( measure, scope) and their kātib (inscriber):

 "[Regarding] their  number, it is said that there were ten and [also that there were] seven or two... the alwāḥ  were [made of] green emerald (zumurrud akhḍar). The Lord, exalted be He, commanded Gabriel and he brought them from [the Garden of] Eden... Others say that they were [made] of ruby.. And  I  say that they were of emerald.. It is related from the Prophet, `The alwāḥ  which were sent down unto Moses were from the Lote‑Tree of Paradise (sidr al‑jannat) and the length of the Tablet(s) was  twelve cubits" (Rūḥ al‑ma`ānī V:55). 

 2 Written in the 1200s/ 1800s this work has been published in Egypt in six volumes, Cairo: al‑Maṭba`at al‑Amīrah, 1870; Bulaq 1301‑10/1883‑92 and also recently reprinted (‑‑Chs.bib.).

 2I have not been able to locate these references in either the edition printed in or the CD version though the Arabic text is cited by Noghabā’ī. This Bahā’ī writer has Alūsī  refer to ÿāhirih as "one in whom I witnessed grace and perfection the like of which I had not perceived in most men.." (1983:137). Gulpayigānī, Kashf al‑Ghiṭa,  95‑6; Māzandarānī, ZH III:356‑9; AB* Tadhkirat, 194/ Memorials, 194‑5).

Muhammad Abdūh (d.1322/1905) and Rashid Rida' (d.XXXX/XXXX).

Finally, brief mention should be made of the Egyptian moderniser, reformist and commentator Muhammad Abdūh (d.1322/1905). He  wrote an influential, incomplete Tafsīr  work revised and completed by his pupil Rashīd Riḍā (d.1935) and also put out a short‑lived periodical entitled al‑`Urwa al‑wuthqā’  (The Firm Handle) with the Iranian reformer Jamāl Asadābādī [al‑Afghānī] (d.1897) who  had probably spent  some time with BA* and the Bābīs in Baghdad (Cole, 1998, index). Abdūh also wrote a Risāla al‑tawḥīd  (Treatise on the Divine Oneness, 1897) and a work on Christianity and Islam al‑Islām wa’l‑Naṣrāniyya  (Cairo, 1902). He aligned himself with those who rejected the Islamic concept of taḥrīf  as the total corruption of biblical scripture and had some acquaintance with the Bible. Abduh gave great weight to rationalism. Like AB* whom he had met he argued that the existing bible must be authentic because it cannot have been universally corrupted.