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IIS Research Associate Presents on Persian Mystical Exegetical Traditions

6th August 2012

Dr Alessandro Cancian, Research Associate in the Institute’s Qur’anic Studies Unit, presented a paper at the 5th Biennial Convention of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies held at the Maulana Azad University, Hyderabad, India.

In his paper, entitled Mystical Exegesis in Modern Iran: The Case of the Gunabadi Order and RidaʿAli-Shah’s Commentary on Three Qur’anic Stories, Dr Cancian analysed the work of one of the masters of the Gunabadi of the Niʿmatullahi Sufi order, Sultan Husayn Tabanda RidaʿAli-Shah (d. 1992), in the framework of his Order’s exegetical tradition. The treatise, entitled Qur’aninfo-icon-i majid va seh dastan-e asrar-amiz-i ʿirfani (“The noble Qur’an and three mysterious esoteric stories”) is an augmented translation of Rida ‘Ali-Shah’s predecessor Sultan ʿAli-Shah’s exegesis of three Qur’anic pericopes: the Ashab al-kahf, the story of Moses and al-Khidr, and that of Dhu’l-Qarnayn, as contained in the Tafsir Bayan al-saʿada fi maqamat al-ʿibada.

According to Dr Cancian, the relevance of the work does not rest in the translation itself, which was not new to Rida ʿAli-Shah. Rather, it is the originality with which the subject is addressed that deserves a closer analysis. Rida ʿAli-Shah does not limit himself to an authoritative translation of his illustrious predecessor’s words, but adds historical and personal clarifications to the narrative, in line with his multifarious interests, that set him and the work apart from the classical tradition.

The study of recent exegetical material, such as the one under scrutiny here or the Rahnama-yi Saʿadat, also by Rida ʿAli-Shah, may help understand the development of Iranian Shiʿi mystical exegesis in the 20th century. Furthermore, an analysis of the use of sources external to Islamic literature deployed by the author in explaining Qur’anic passages, may contribute to the understanding of the intellectual trends of religious thinking in Iran in the face of its encounter with modernity.

Logo of the Association for the Study of Persianate SocietiesThe Convention was organised by the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies, which supports the efforts of scholars around the world. It also publishes the Journal of Persianate Studies, a collection of scholarly articles, book reviews and conference reports.