Sufi Koran Commentary: a Survey of the Genreby A. Godlas (This is a web-based version of the article "al-Tafsir al-Sufi" to be published by the Encyclopaedia Iranica)
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IntroductionAl-Tafs^r al-S®u@f^ (Sufi Koran exegesis), also referred to as al-tafs^r al-esha@r^or be'l-esha@ra (Koran exegesis through allusion), is a little-studied, controversial, and voluminous genre of Koran commentary, the key feature of which is the "unveiling" (kashf) to the individual Sufi commentator of a relationship between a Koranic verse and Sufi concepts.
Although many Sufis wrote commentaries on individual su@ras (such as Su@rat Yu@sof) or particular a@yas, this survey only covers the Sufi tafs^rs that are extant and that generally dealt with the whole of the Koran (although such commentaries would often omit a number of a@ya per su@ra). See Ate¶ (1974) for Sufi tafs^rs that are outside the scope of this essay.
While the only comprehensive scholarly work on this genre is the Turkish Ë¶a@r^ tefs^r okulu (Ate¶, 1974), Paul Nwyia investigated the primacy of the individual experience of the commentator in Sufi hermeneutics as well as the development of a Sufi vocabulary for expressing this (Nwyia, 1970). Because Sufi commentators frequently move beyond the "apparent" (záa@her) point of the a@ya@t(verses) on which they are commenting and instead relate Koranic a@ya@tto the "inner or esoteric" (ba@tÂen) and metaphysical dimensions of consciousness and existence, they have often been criticized (D¨ahab^, vol. 2, pp. 337-378; Mashann^, pp. 639-650). The validity of such criticism is itself questionable, however, when it reaches the extent of conflating Sufi tafs^r with Isma@¿^l^ (ba@tÂen^ya) ta÷w^l.
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