|Sufi Master and Qur’an Scholar, Abu’l-Qasim al-Qushayri and the Lata’if al-Isharat|
Oxford University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2012.
ISBN (Hardback): 978-0-19-726513-0
Sufi Master and Qur’an Scholar: Abu’l-Qasim al-Qushayri and the Lata’if al-isharat is the first extensive Western language treatment of the mystical Qur’an commentary composed by the eleventh century Sufi and theologian Abu’l-Qasim al-Qushayri (d.1072 CE). The work in question, the Lata’if al-isharat (‘Subtleties of the Signs’), is a verse-by-verse interpretation of the Qur’an that was composed around the year 1045 CE alongside the author’s al-Risala al-Qushayriyya, an important handbook detailing the principles and predecessors of Sufism. As a result, the Lata’if al-isharat not only provides Qushayri’s mystical reading of the Qur’an, but it also demonstrates many other aspects of the author’s scholarly personality, including his knowledge of conventional exegesis, Arabic language, poetry, hadith, law, and theology. The present study’s objectives are twofold: 1) to situate Qushayri’s Qur’an commentary within the larger historical and intellectual trends underway at the time and 2) to delineate the nature and hermeneutics of the text.
In the introduction, Dr Nguyen explores the importance of Qushayri for the study of Islam and then maps the legacy of his Lata’if al-isharat for the later history and development of Qur’anic exegesis. The first part of the book then addresses in detail various aspects of Qushayri’s life. The initial chapters attempt to reconstruct his biography, with special attention paid to his religious education and socio-political position, and his lifelong engagement with Sufism. In Chapter 3, the various exegetical works composed by Qushayri that lead up to and including the Lata’if al-isharat are examined and documented. In the course of this latter treatment, the surviving manuscripts are carefully discussed.
In the second part of the book, Dr Nguyen provides a series of in-depth analyses on different aspects of the Lata’if al-isharat. Chapter 4 is dedicated to surveying Qushayri’s general hermeneutics through a close reading of key exegetical terms. A defining element discussed in this chapter, and critical to the remaining ones, is Qushayri’s ladder of interpretation whereby possible interpretations are presented in an ascending manner starting from the most basic and exoteric explanations and progressing to more subtle spiritual ones.
Following Qushayri’s hierarchical framework, Dr Nguyen examines in each chapter a different interpretative methodology. Appropriately, Chapter 5 looks at the conventional exegetical reports and prophetic traditions used by Qushayri as well as his regional networks of hadith transmission. Additionally, the few named authorities that are cited in the Lata’if al-isharat are also explored. In Chapter 6, potential influences and sources for the Lata’if al-isharat are traced by comparing three exegetical treatments from al-Qushayri’s Sufi commentary with earlier and contemporaneous works. The Qur’anic passages used for comparison are those concerning Prophet Muhammad’s ascension (Q. 53:1-8), the disconnected letters A-L-M in (Q. 2:1) and the prophetic narrative of Job in (Q. 21:83-84) and (Q. 38:41-44).
The next two chapters address Qushayri’s legal and dogmatic concerns in the commentary. Chapter 7 considers his Shafi‘i legal training, while Chapter 8 looks at his advocacy of the Ash‘ari school of theology. Specifically, Dr Nguyen investigates Qushayri’s theological responses to seemingly anthropomorphic verses of the Qur’an. In the last chapter, the apex of Qushayri’s hermeneutics is investigated when his Sufi understanding of miracles and spiritual masters is explored across the pages of the Lata’if al-isharat. In this chapter, the primacy of Sufism for Qushayri’s hermeneutics is argued.
Through a close reading of the Qur’an commentary, this book brings to light the importance of Qushayri’s Lata’if al-isharat for the study of Sufism and further illuminates the intimate links connecting the emergent Sufi tradition with other fields of Islamic knowledge such as hadith, law, and theology. This book will be of interest to students of Sufism, Qur’anic exegesis and medieval Muslim intellectual history.
Content Date: March 2012