Islamo-Biblica in Tafsir Literatures II
Islamo-Biblica in Tafsir ("Qur'an Commentary") Literatures II - Early and later Shi`ism.
In progress 1980s ...
Tafsir among the Shi`ite Imams from `Ali ibn Abi Talib (d.49/661) to the sixth Imam Ja`far al‑Ṣādiq (d.148/765).
Reputed master of the `ulūm al‑ghayb (the esoteric sciences) the sixth Imam Ja`far al‑Ṣādiq (d.148/765) is believed to have authored an allegorically oriented Tafsīr work (al‑Ṣādiq, al‑Tafsīr; Habil, 1987 ch.3; Sells, 1996:75f). One of his several acrostic interpretations of بِسْم (bism "In the name..") of the first basmala in the opening Sūrah (al‑fātiḥa ,Q.1) of the Q., states:
The bism ("In the name [of ]") is composed of thee letters: the ب ( "b") signifies his Eternity (baqā), the س "s" (al‑sīn) his Names (asmā’) and the م "m" (al‑mīm) his Dominion (al‑mulk). Thus the faith of the believer is mentioned by him throughout his Eternity (bi‑baqā’ihi) while the servitude of the aspirant (al‑murīd) is indicated through his Names (al‑asmā’) and of the gnostic (al‑ārif) in his transcendent abstraction (fanā’) from the kingdom by virtue of His Sovereignty over it (Tafsīr al‑Ṣādiq, 1978:125 cf. Tabarī, Tafsīr 1:53‑55;T. Ṣādiq, 125; cf. Biḥar 2 9:238).
Certain of Ja`far al‑Ṣādiq’s interpretations of the Q. interpret prophetological themes including Moses’ request to see God (Q.7:143, cf. Exodus 33:18‑23). The Imam makes Moses a prototype of the `ārif (gnostic, `mystic knower’) while the request to see God becomes an interior event within the reality of Moses. The negative response to Moses’ request, the lan tarānī ("Thou shalt not see me [God]"), is interpreted as indicating the impossibility of direct beatific vision because mystical fanā’ (annihilation of the "self") precludes "seeing": "How can that which passes away (fānin) find a way to that which abides (bāqin)?" (trans. Sells, 1996:80). Through non‑literal exegesis the transcendence of God is maintained.
The Tafsir attributed to the eleventh Imam Hasan al-Askari (d. 260/873).
Towards its beginning the al‑`Askarī Tafsīr contains an interesting dialogue between Moses and God partially rooted in this prophet’s request to see "his Lord" (Q. 7:143). Without going into details God instructs Moses to the effect that Muhammad and his (Shī`ī) family and community, are the most honoured among the prophets (al‑anbiyā’) and all other creatures (al‑Askarī, Tafsīr, 15ff).
These two abovementioned early (9th‑10th cent. CE) Shī`ī Tafsīr works had some influence upon the Bāb (see T. Kawthar, 40a; P.Dalā’il, 48‑9 drawing on `Ayyāshī / Qummī Tafsīr, on Q. 2:1; cf. T.Hamd 69:145.). So too the Tafsīr al‑`Askarī (Bar‑Asher, 1999:34), a little studied Tafsīr work attributed to the 11th Imam, Ḥasan al‑`Askarī (d. c.260 /873‑4).1 About half way through his R. Dhahabiyya the Bāb utilizes al‑`Askarī’s comments upon a verse of the Sūrat al‑Baqara (Q. 2) in connection with the ummī an ("unletteredness") of Muhammad and his own relinquishing the fitra, (innate, God‑given identity, R. Dhah. 86:84).
The Tafsīr works of `Alī b. Ibrahīm al‑Qummī (d.10th cent.) and Abū'l‑Naẓr Muhammad al‑Ayyāshī (fl‑9th‑10th. cent. CE).
Among the foundational Shi`ī tafsīr works mention should be made of the partially extant though influential Shī`ī tafsīr works of Abū'l‑Naẓr Muhammad al‑Ayyāshī (fl‑9th‑10th. cent. CE) and the Tafsīr al‑Qur’ān of `Alī b. Ibrahīm al‑Qummī (d.10th cent.). It must suffice here to note that the latter work, includes comments upon the first set of isolated letters A‑L‑M (Alif‑Lā—Mīm,Q. 2:1), holding that they indicate "a portion of the letters of the ism Allāh al‑a`ẓam (The mightiest Name of God)" (Qummī,Tafsīr 1:43). Qummī’s Tafsīr includes many non‑literal, imamologically oriented interpretations. Rippin has noted that Qummī did not simply define "Islam" as "submission" to God but reckoned it submission to the authority of the Twelver Imams (Enc.Rel.14:241). Qummī’s interpretation of A‑L‑M (Q. 2:1 etc) was repeated in later Shī`ī Tafsīr works including the lengthy Persian Tafsīr Sharīf of the philosopher‑theologian student of Mullā Ṣadrā, `Abd al‑Razzāq al‑Lāḥījī (d. c.1072/1662). Lāḥījī explained these three isolated letters as an acrostic expressing the phrase anā Allāh al‑mulk (I am indeed God, the Sovereign)` (Tafsīr Sharīf I:7).
The Tafsir of Muhammad b. Ḥasan al‑Ṭūsī (d.460/1067).
Muhammad b. Ḥasan al‑Ṭūsī (d.460/1067) in his bulky (20 vol.) Shī`ī al‑Tibyān fī tafsīr al‑Qur’ān (The Clarification of Qur’ān Commentary) explains the verse "When the Lote‑Tree was covered with that which covered it" (Q. 53:16) as allusion to that which emanates from or covers the Sidrat al‑muntahā (Lote‑Tree of the Extremity). He states that "the Sidra (Lote‑Tree) was covered with al‑nūr (Light), al‑bahā’ (Splendour), al‑ḥusn (Beauty) and al‑safā’ (Purity) so delightful that there is no end to its depiction" (Tibyān, 9:432).
with Him [God]. It [symbolically] signifies the human brain (al‑dimāgh al‑insānī) which is a seat of intellect and articulation (maẓhar al‑`aql wa’l‑nuṭq).... its Being is the locus of the divine Command (maẓhar al‑amr al‑ilāhī) and the seat of the eternal decree (al‑qiḍā’ al‑azalī). "And the Book Outstretched" (wa’l‑kitāb al‑masṭūr) is the all‑encompassing form (ṣūrat al‑kull) according to what interfaces with Him of the established order (al‑niẓām al‑ma`lūm). It is what is engraved in the tablet of the decree (lawḥ al‑qiḍā’) and the Most Great Spirit rūḥ al‑a` ẓam) ... (Ibn `Arabī/ al‑Kāshānī,Tafsir 2:553).
Abū `Alī al‑Tabarsī (d. c. 548/1153)
Returning to a Shī`ī tafsīr work, the Majma` al‑bayān li‑`ulūm al‑Qur’ān (The Compilation of the Explanation of the Sciences of the Qur’ān) of the Shī`ī theologian Abū `Alī al‑Tabarsī (d. c. 548/1153) has been called a Shī`ī "encyclopedia of Qur’ānic sciences" (O.A. Abdul, 1977:78). Here al‑Ṭabarsī presents in Arabic characters a Hebrew transliteration of the biblical etymology of the tetragrammation (היְהוָ = Y‑H‑W‑H, Yahweh), (= `ehye `āsher `ehye, Exod. 3:14a, loosely), "I am that I am" (RSV). He considered it one of the forms of the al‑ism al‑a`ẓam (Mightiest Name [of God]), said in Arabic to be yā ḥayy yā qayyūm مقيوم يا يا حي (O Living One! O Self‑Subsisting!) (Ṭabarsī, Majma` XIX:226). In one of his many alwāḥ to oriental Jews, BA* reflected such sources when he used the Arabic transliteration add for אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, and transliterated the (unvowelled) tetragrammaton يهوه (= Y‑H‑W‑H) (BA* Ma’idih 4:40; Lambden, 1983:22ff; 1988:66f,155f).
Select Early Ismā’īlī tafsīr works
Various Ismā’īlī tafsīr works also contain interesting allegorical and other non‑literal, sometimes esoteric modes of exegesis. Such is the case with the fragmentary Mizāj al‑tasnīm (The Condition of Tasnīm) of Ibn Hibat-Allāh (d.1760).
Select Safavid era Tafsir works
Mullā Ṣadrām, Ṣadr al‑Dīn Shīrāzī (d.1050/1640)
The important Shī`ī, esoterically inclined tafsīr works and ḥikmat al‑muta`āliyya (Transcendent wisdom) formulations of (Mullā) Ṣadrā al‑Dīn Shīrāzī (d.1050/1640) deserve mention (Peerwani, 1991‑‑>4.2). His massive irfā nī (gnostic) Tafsīr al‑kabīr (Weighty Commentary) expresses something of an integration of Avicennan thought, the theosophy of Ibn al‑`Arabī and the ḥikmat al‑ishrāq perspectives of Yaḥya Suhrawardī. Islamicate biblical citations can be found in various of his works including his commentary on the Uṣūl al‑Kāfī (see Ch. 4.2). This integration was also furthered by Mullā Ṣadrā’s student and son‑in‑law Mullā Muḥsīn Fayḍ al‑Kāshānī (d.1091/1680) whose Tafsīr al‑Ṣāfī fī tafsīr kalām Allāh al‑wāfī (The Pristine Tafsīr...) was particularly influential1. So also the Persian and Arabic `irfānī commentaries on select sūrahs of the Q. of the philosopher and polymathic pioneer of Judaeo‑Christian dialogue Sayyid Aḥmad al‑Alawī (d.c.1050/1650). His works have been "considered to be one of the outstanding gnostic, theosophical commentaries in the Shī`īte world".2 Those relating to the bible and dialogue will be commented upon below (see Ch. 4.2).
`Abd `Alī al‑Ḥuwayzī (d.1112/1700).
Various Akhbārī (`tradition centred’) Shī`ī commentators utilized and highlighted the importance of a non‑literal hermeneutic (EIr.1:716‑18; Lawson, 1993). On occasion they set down interesting interpretations to Q. rooted Isrā’īliyyāt materials as found in the traditions (akhbār ). Only passing mention can be made here to such exegetes. They include `Abd `Alī al‑Ḥuwayzī (d.1112/1700), author of the Kitāb tafsīr nūr al‑thaqalayn (The Book of the Commentary on the Light of the Twin Weights).
Sayyid Hāshīm al‑Baḥrānī (d. c.1110 /1697).
Sayyid Hāshīm al‑Baḥrānī (d. c.1110 /1697) wrote the important Kitāb al‑burhān fī tafsīr al‑Qur’ān (The Book of the Evidence in the Commentary on the Qur’ān).
al‑`Āmilī al‑Iṣfahānī (d.1138/1726)
The Mir’āt al‑anwār wa mishkāt al‑asrār fī tafsīr al‑Qur’ān (Mirrors of Lights and Niches of Mysteries in Commentary upon the Qur’ān) of al‑`Āmilī al‑Iṣfahānī (d.1138/1726) contains an extensive prolegomenon highlighting and expounding the deeper hermeneutics of qur’ānic exegesis. Included in its extensive alphabetical glossary of key Shī`ite terms are expositions of many biblical‑qurānic figures including Gabriel, Adam, Abraham, Lot, Gog and Magog (Yājūj and Mājūj), Joseph, Israel (Isrā’īl), Solomon (Sulaymān) and Jesus. Corbin described this volume as "one of the monuments of Iranian theological literature, furnishing inexhaustible material for comparative research on the hermeneutics of the Book among the "People of the Book"" (Corbin. EIr. I:931‑2; Dharī`a 20:264f., no. 2893; Lawson, 1993:195f).1