An Anthology of Qur’anic Commentaries - Volume I: On the Nature of the Divine
Oxford University Press (OUP) in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2008.
Also available in U.S.A.
ISBN (Hardback): 978-0-19-720000-1
ISBN (Paperback): 978-0-19-960059-5
This volume is a collection of Muslim exegeses, across confessions, on six verses of the Qurʾan brought together under the thematic title of “the Nature of the Divine”. The aim of this collection is to demonstrate the richness of the genre of Qurʾanic commentary and the plurality of interpretative voices that have engaged the text of the scripture. By drawing on commentaries, many well-known but others less so, the purpose has been to present the broadest possible range of Muslim commentaries on the Qurʾan, from as many perspectives and as many styles as considered feasible within the covers of a single volume. This volume then is intended to make available a representative selection of this literature in English, but at the same time to be comprehensive in the treatment of this selection, primarily by translating the text word for word and by guiding the reader with contextual material in the accompanying annotation.
This Anthology uses 20 works of Qurʾanic commentary. Taken chronologically, these are:
· The proto-Sunni tafsir of Muqatil b. Sulayman al-Balkhi (d. 150/767).
· The early Ibadi tafsir of Hud b. Muhakkam al-Hawwari (d. c. 290/903).
· The 3 pre-ghayba Twelver-Shi‘i tafsirs of ʿAli b. Ibrahim al-Qummi (alive in 307/919), Furat b. Furat al-Kufi (fl. late third/ninth century) and Abu’l-Nadr al-ʿAyyashi (fl. late third/ ninth century).
· The classical Sunni tafsir of Abu Jaʿfar al-Tabari (d. 310/923).
· The Persian Sufi tafsir of Rashid al-Din Maybudi (sixth/twelfth century, d. c. 1135?).
· The Sunni-Muʿtazili tafsir of Jar Allah al-Zamakhshari (d. 538/1144).
· The classical (post-ghayba) Twelver-Shi‘i tafsir of Abu’l-Fadl al-Tabrisi (or Tabarsi) (d. 548/1154).
· The Sunni-Ashʿari tafsir of the theologian-philosopher Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 606/1209).
· The Sufi tafsir of the Twelver-Shi‘i ʿAbd al-Razzaq al-Kashani (d. 736/1336).
· The Sunni tafsir of the Andalusian philologist Abu Hayyan al-Gharnati (d. 745/1344).
· The Zaydi-Shi‘i compilation of the Yemeni scholar ʿAllama ʿAbd Allah al Sharafi (d. 1062/1651).
· The Sunni-Sufi tafsir of the Ottoman Ismaʿil Haqqi Burusawi (or Bursawi) (d. 1137/1725).
· The Sunni-Sufi (quasi-Salafi) tafsir of the Ottoman Sayyid Mahmud b. ʿAbd Allah al-Alusi (d. 1270/1854).
· The al-Manar commentary by the 20th century Sunni reformers Muhammad ʿAbduh (d. 1323/1905) and Muhammad Rashid Rida (d. 1354/1935).
· The commentary by the Sunni thinker Sayyid Abu’l-Aʿla Mawdudi (d. 1399/1979).
· The Lebanese Twelver-Shi‘i marjaʿ Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadl Allah (b. 1935–).
Each chapter deals with a single Qurʾanic verse and presents the commentaries on that particular verse, that are available from the 20 works selected for this anthology. The 6 verses are:
· Q. 2:115, God’s omnipresence
This verse establishes the relationship in time and place between God and His servants; it addresses the question of God’s omnipresence and the wisdom behind His establishing a ‘direction of prayer’ (qibla). Discussions about the qibla are significant because of their affirmation of Muslim identity and because, together with the profession of the faith (shahada), the qibla is an essential symbol of the faith unifying the range of schools and confessional groups in Islam.
· Q. 2:255, God’s seat/throne
This verse deals with God’s attributes, more specifically, with His sovereignty, knowledge, power and management of creation. The question of God’s attributes is essential for understanding the disputes among the earliest intellectual movements in Islam. Also important are the liturgical uses of this verse in Muslim devotions and the verse’s appeal to Muslim consciousness, past and present.
· Q. 6:12, God’s mercy
This verse substantiates a fundamental Muslim teaching, namely that God has made it incumbent upon Himself to be merciful, something which has always been pitted against God’s threats of severe punishment for sinners in the Hereafter; it also provides a starting point for discussions about the nature of reward and punishment within the overall divine scheme.
· Q. 24:35, God’s light
For many Muslims, this is amongst the most famous similes of God. Of all the Qurʾanic images, ‘light’ is arguably the most significant, since it represents one of God’s greatest favours to mankind: His guidance. In interpreting it, the commentaries discuss the nature of His guidance, through the Qurʾan, the Prophet and, in the case of Shiʿi commentaries, the imams. For all the different intellectual currents in Islam, God’s explicit reference to Himself as the Light of the heavens and the earth was the stimulus for a plethora of interpretations and discussions among theologians, mystics and philosophers that sought to define the nature of this fascinating and incontestable link between God and the phenomenon of light.
· Q. 54:49, God’s measure
The commentaries tell us that, as ‘Master Creator’, God created everything according to a precise measure; this is reflected in the world around us (in creatures, nature and the cosmos). More significantly, of course, it also raises the early theological debate of free will versus determinism.
· Q. 112:1–2, God’s Oneness
This verse articulates the fundamental doctrine of the Muslim faith, belief in which constitutes the minimal requirement for a person to be identified as a Muslim. The importance of including this verse is self-evident. The commentaries will present to the reader the manner in which this foundational concept has been understood by Muslims.
All 6 chapters are structured along the same lines: each begins with a contextual introduction, situating the importance of the verse and summarising the gist of the commentaries that will follow. The introductions focus on the theological implications of each verse in broad and, where appropriate, religio-comparative terms. They also draw comparisons between the different commentaries; highlight general trends or exceptions in the approaches of the commentators; and articulate as far as possible the way in which the exegetical narratives, although drawing on different confessional traditions, intimate a common heritage that allows for a plurality of interpretations to exist under the unifying umbrella of Muslim tafsir. This last goal is especially important given that the volume is sampling some 1,200 years of tafsir tradition across diverse geographies.
Content Date: October 2009