Sufi Koran Commentary: a Survey of the Genre

by 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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Sufi Tafs^r and Isma@¿^l^ Ta÷w^l   

Although both Sufi tafs^r and Isma@¿^l^ ta÷w^l may share the designation of "ta÷w^l" and are superficially similar, in fact they are two distinct kinds of hermeneutics.  On the one hand, two significant features of Isma@¿^l^ ta÷w^l are as follows: first, its method derives from the foundation (asa@s) that is the Imam; and second, in Isma@¿^l^ ta÷w^l the object of the a@ya@t revealed by ta÷w^l is also often the Imam (Walker 1993, 124-133 and 1994, p. 120; Habil, p. 36; Nanji, p. 192; Corbin, 1975, p. 523; Corbin 1983, p. 99; Daftary, p. 388).  On the other hand, first, in Sufi tafs^r the method is kashf (an unveiling to the heart of the interpreter)--contingent not on the Imam but variously on the grace of God, the spiritual capacity of the interpreter, and the degree of one's spiritual effort; and second, in Sufi tafs^r the object revealed is largely related to Sufi practice or to an ontological or anthropological aspect of Sufi doctrine; and the interpreter does not claim that this invalidates the exoteric meaning of the a@ya.  In spite of the often obfuscating criticism, even Sunni scholars such as GÚaza@l^ (d. 505/1111), Ebn Qayyem Jawz^ya (d. 751/1350), Sha@tÂeb^ (d. 790/1388),  and Sa¿d-al-D^n Taftaza@n^ (d. 793/1390) accepted Sufi tafs^r as being legitimate as long as certain conditions were met (Gatje, pp. 228-230; D¨ahab^, vol. 2, pp. 357-58, 366-369; QatÂtÂa@n 309-10).  One contemporary scholar even defended Solam^'s H®aqa@÷eq al-tafs^r (see below) against the charge of being Isma@¿^l^, stating that since Solam^ did not deny the exoteric meaning of the Koran or declare it to be invalid, the H®aqa@÷eq should not be considered to be among the works of the Isma@¿^l^s (ba@tÂen^ya) (Noqra@sh^, p. 188).
 

 

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