Mulla Sadra's Exegesis of the Qur'an (book)

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Mulla Sadra's Exegesis of the Qur'an (book)
تفسیر القرآن الکریم.jpg
AuthorMulla Sadra
Original titleتفسیر القرآن الکریم
Series7 vols.
GenrePhilosophical Exegesis
Published1364 Sh/1985
PublisherBidar Publications, Qom, Iran

Tafsīr Mullā Ṣadrā (Arabic: تفسیر ملاصدرا) is an exegesis of some suras of the Qur'an by Mulla Sadra (d. 1050/1640-1) in Arabic. He wrote these exegeses as distinct essays in about 20 years.

Mulla Sadra wanted to write a comprehensive and complete exegesis of the whole Qur'an, but he did not find the occasion to do so. In about 1040/1630-1, he wrote the book, Mafatih al-ghayb li fath khaza'in al-'ulum al-mubarra'a 'an al-shakk wa l-rayb as a prolegomenon to his would-be comprehensive exegesis of the Qur'an.

Mulla Sadra's exegeses of the Qur'an are organized in one volume with the order of Qur'anic chapters by Shaykh Ahmad Shirazi under Tafsir Mulla Sadra and was published lithographically. These essays were also published in seven volumes under al-Tafsir al-Kabir and Tafsir al-Qur'an al-karim.

Exegetical Essays Constituting Tafsir Mulla Sadra

Mulla Sadra's exegetical essays are as follows:

  • Tafsir Sura al-Nur (written in 1030/1620-1). The manuscript of this essay is available with Mulla Sadra's own handwriting.
  • Tafsir Sura al-Tariq (written in 1030/1620-1). Its manuscript is available in Kashan in the library of one of Mulla Sadra's progeny. It was independently published in a lithographic form in Tehran.
  • Tafsir Sura al-Zilzal in which he referred to the Earth's essential and substantial motion.
  • Tafsir Sura al-Waqi'a in which he talked about people's resurrections and knowledge in the afterlife and their degrees of happiness and misery. It was lithographically published in 1322/1904-5.
  • Tafsir Sura al-Hadid in some sections of which, under "Mukashafa" (revelation), some philosophical and mystical points are elaborated.
  • Tafsir Sura al-Jumu'a, which is similar to his exegesis of Sura al-Waqi'a in that it has a more mystical flavor than his other works. A manuscript of this essay with the author's handwriting is available in Kashan in the library of one of his progeny.
  • Tafsir Sura al-Baqara from the beginning to the verse 66. The manuscript of this essay with the author's handwriting is available in the Library of Masjid A'azm in Qom. It was lithographically printed together with his exegesis of Ayat al-Kursi and Sura al-Fatiha in 1302/1884-5.

Some of these exegeses are translated into Persian, such as the exegeses of Sura al-Waqi'a, Sura al-Jumu'a, Sura al-Tariq, Sura al-A'la, Sura al-Zilzal and Sura al-Nur by Muhammad Khajawi in four volumes.

Some essays involving exegeses of Sura al-Duha, Sura al-Talaq and Sura al-Kafirun are also attributed to Mulla Sadra.

His Other Exegetical Works

  • Mafatih al-ghayb: after his exegetical essays, it is Mulla Sadra's 13th work in the exegesis of the Qur'an. In this book, he tried to elaborate his principles of the exegesis and sought to use the exegesis of the Qur'an as a key to solution of the problems of the existence. In this book, he dealt with some mystical and philosophical issues with an eye to the views of people such as al-Ghazali, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and Muhyi l-Din b. al-'Arabi.
  • Mutashabih al-Qur'an: it is a short essay in 6 sections concerning the notion of mutashabih (ambiguous phrases) in the Qur'an. The manuscript of this essay is available in the collections of Sayyid Muhammad Mishkat in the library of Sayyid Nasr Allah Taqawi in Tehran. It was published in a collection of essays, under Rasa'il-i falsafi edited by Sayyid Jalal al-Din Ashtiyani.
  • Asrar al-ayat wa anwar al-bayyinat: it is an exegesis of a selection of Qur'anic verses. The book has three chapters regarding divine knowledge, divine actions, and the resurrection. There are philosophical and mystical points in these chapters. Mulla Sadra tried to glean these points from the Qur'an. He appealed to Qur'anic verses 1200 times in this book.

Mulla Sadra's Exegetical Method

Mulla Sadra wrote his exegetical essays in different points in time. This is why, there are different methods employed in his exegetical works. Some of them are short and are close to the standard exegetical method. For example, in his exegesis of Sura al-Baqara, he followed the lead of Majma' al-bayan separating the literary part from the rest—called "meaning". Some other exegeses of his are detailed and have a mystical flavor, especially the ones written near the end of his life.

Mulla Sadra held that there are three worlds (this mundane world, the afterlife, and the divine world). He correspondingly believed that the Qur'an might refer to manifest and sensory phenomena (the mundane world), it might refer to the secret (the reality and the interior of afterlife), and it might refer to the secret of the secret (the interior of the interior or the divine world). Thus he criticized people who limit the exegesis of the Qur'an to philosophical and literal issues, its recitation and the citation of hadiths, calling them the "people of words and expressions" or worshippers of opinions and views, and seekers of personal desires.

In his exegesis, Mulla Sadra first deals with exegeses and views of the followers of different sects, even those he disagreed with, and thus he first tackles literal, rhetorical, and hadithi issues as well as differences in the recitations (or pronunciations) of the Qur'an, the views of the sahaba and tabi'un (sometimes criticizing them). In these cases, he cited well-known exegeses, such as those of al-Nisaburi, al-Baydawi, al-Tha'alibi, 'Ali b. Ibrahim al-Qumi and especially al-Kashshaf by al-Zamakhshari and Majma' al-bayan.

In many cases, Mulla Sadra drew upon other Qur'anic verses in order to interpret a certain Qur'anic verse. For example, in his exegesis of Sura al-Hamd, which consists of seven verses, he appealed to 100 other verses of the Qur'an.

In the second stage of his exegesis, Mulla Sadra cited materials from his own works or other people that he called "people of revelation and indication" or "people of Allah". They include philosophical and mystical points. He cited people such as Khwaja 'Abd Allah al-Ansari, Bayazid al-Bastami, Junayd al-Baghdadi, Sahl al-Tustari and in particular, al-Ghazali, Muhyi l-Din b. 'Arabi, and commentators of Ibn 'Arabi's works, such as Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi and al-Qaysari. He cited their remarks in an admiring way. He also cited mystical poems by Rumi, 'Attar Nisaburi, and Sana'i Ghaznawi whom he took to be sages. Mulla Sadra also cited some of his own Persian poems in his exegesis.

Earlier Philosophers and Qur'anic Verses

Mulla Sadra considered and admired views of Muslim philosophers as well as pre-Islamic philosophers. He frequently cited Risala niruziyya by Ibn Sina—whom he called the master of Muslim philosophers—in his exegeses of muqatta'at (disconnected letters). He also cited issues about the three human worlds from Enneads (known in Arabic as Uthulujiya) attributed to Aristotle (though it is indeed authored by Plotinus, comparing them to the Qur'an. Mulla Sadra praised Aristotle citing a hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (s) according to which Aristotle was a prophet not appreciated by his own people. He also interpreted the verse 122 of Sura al-An'am in terms of Porphyry's theory whom Mulla Sadra took to be the head of the Peripatetic philosophers and the greatest student of Aristotle's. According to Mulla Sadra, Greek philosophers before Plato were instances of the Qur'anic verse, "men who have been true to their covenant with God" (the Qur'an, 33:23). He took these sages to be the household of wisdom, as the Imams (a) are the households of prophethood and wilaya.

Mulla Sadra's Theories and Qur'anic Verses

Here are some philosophical and mystical views propounded by Mulla Sadra in his exegeses and supported by appeals to Qur'anic verses:

  • The degrees of the knowledge of the absolute truth: every being knows a portion of the truth appropriate to their degree of existence. Even idolaters grasped a portion of truth and so they are in some respect worshippers of God, since they worshipped their idols as God.
  • Principality of existence and unity of existence: there is nothing in the being except the divine essence and His actions as forms and manifestations of His attributes.
  • Special tawhid or al-tawhid al-khassi: God is a simple reality possessing all existential perfections which emanate from Him to the creatures. He is the whole existence and He is nothing but existence.
  • Substantial motion: all material substances, both heavenly and earthly, are essentially in motion, change and renewal.
  • The ascending and the descending arcs of the human's place: the main goal of the whole creation is the true human being, and the human's origin and destination is God. God has favored to the human being from the beginning of the world to its end.
  • The correspondence of the worlds of form and meaning: God created in the world of meaning whatever He created in the world of form, and whatever exists in the world of meaning also exists in the divine world (ghayb al-ghuyub). Therefore, whatever exists in this world is a form of what exists in the afterlife, and whatever exists in the afterlife is a form of realities and al-a'yan al-thabita (Fixed Prototypes) which are manifestations of divine names.
  • The soul is physical in its incipience (jismaniyyat al-huduth) and spiritual in its survival (ruhaniyyat al-baqa'): the incipience of the soul is occasioned by the body's disposition to develop into a spiritual entity, and its survival is occasioned by its psychic characteristics.
  • Not all humans will be resurrected with their bodies: people who are perfect in knowledge will be resurrected without a body and in a purely spiritual way, independently of the matter, just like angels.
  • Punishment in the Hell is not eternal: in some other works of his, however, Mulla Sadra holds that it is eternal.
  • Not being subject to sharia obligations: according to Mulla Sadra, people who are absorbed in mystical experiences are not subject to sharia obligations, and should act upon their experiences instead.
  • Call to intellectual independence and to follow the reasons: according to Mulla Sadra, people's intellectual superiority is not a criterion for the truth of their views. Thus he reproached religious leaders who based their beliefs on the views of others as well as those who try to prove religious beliefs by an appeal to miracles and the views of others. He held that one's perfection is to be intellectual liberated from imitating other people's views.