Spiritual Gems: The Mystical Qur'an Commentary

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  • Author: Ja'far Al-Sadiq
  • ISBN: 9781891785306

The mystical Qur'an commentary attributed by the Sufis to Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (d. 148/765) This corpus of exegetical comments constitutes arguably the earliest extant mystical commentary on the Qur'an. It was preserved and transmitted by the Sufis of the early centuries of Islam, and is to be found in the 4th-5th/ 10th-11th century compendium compiled by M. b. al-Husayn al-Sulami (d. 412/1021), in which Ja'far al-Sadiq is one of the most frequently cited authorities.

Spiritual Gems is the first ever full translation of this important corpus from al-Sadiq. Complete with analytical introduction and scholarly notes, the book contains detailed exposition of the methods and levels of scriptural interpretation used in this commentary and of the cognate ontological continuity between the levels of the human microcosm.

The spirituality of this text is a deeply mystical encounter with the truths enunciated by philosophy and religion. In addition to surmounting temporal differences, the inner landscape of the commentary rises above formal differences; by virtue of its universal message, it is as relevant today as it was in earlier times. Spiritual Gems is a truly seminal text in the Islamic tradition of esoteric exegesis. It helps to reveal the reason why Ja'far al-Sadiq is to be appreciated not only as an Imam within Shii Islam, but also as one of the most important masters of Sufi gnosis, and a pivotal figure in the tradition of spiritual commentary on the Holy Qur'an.  

- Reza Shah-Kazemi

Farhana Mayer studied Arabic and Islamic studies, specialising in Qur'anic hermeneutics, at the University of Oxford, where she received her bachelor's and master's degrees. In addition to her independent research on interpretations of the Qur'an, she is currently with the Qur'anic Studies Unit of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London. She is co-translator and editor of volume I of the IIS/OUP Anthology of Qur'anic Commentaries series: On the Nature of the Divine (2008).

Spiritual Gems is the first ever full translation of arguably the earliest extant mystical commentary on the Qur'an.  It was preserved and transmitted by the Sufis of the early centuries of Islam, and is to be found in the 4th-5th/10th-11th century compendium compiled by M.b. al-Husayn al-Sulami (d. 412/1021), in which Ja'far al-Sadiq is one of the most frequently cited authorities.

Complete with analytical introduction and scholarly notes, the book contains detailed exposition of the methods and levels of scriptural interpretations used in this commentary.
"Every verse of the Qur'an has four levels of meaning: the obvious verbal meaning, the indication or analogy, the subtle meaning, and the deepest reality."  This saying, attributed to Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq, gives us a glimpse of what we will find in the pages of this translation, compiled by as-Sulami, of the earliest mystical commentaries on the Qur'an.

Spiritual Gems helps us to understand Islamic scripture on the spiritual-- and thus, universal-- level.  Indeed, precisely because its insights are on the spiritual level, the commonalities of theme and practice with other spiritual traditions become apparent.

This volume helps us to understand Islamic scripture on the spiritual -- and thus, universal -- level. Indeed, precisely because its insights are on the spiritual level, the commonalities of theme and practice with other spiritual traditions such as Kabbalah become apparent.

"Every verse of the Qur'an has four levels of meaning: the obvious verbal meaning, the indication or analogy, the subtle meaning, and the deepest reality." This saying, attributed to Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq, gives us a glimpse of what we will find in the pages of this first ever translation of the volume, compiled by as-Sulami, of the earliest mystical commentaries on the Qur'an.

This book is important because it presents the words of mystics who were also sound scholars from the Islamic tradition. This translation gives us the raw words directly from traditional sages, accompanied by introductions of tight scholarship which give us accurate portrayal of the sages' respective contexts.
 
"The Arabic follows the text of Paul Nwyia's edition, including the lack of markings on the Arabic text of the Qur'ān, per the request of the translator. Paul Nwyia came from a generation of scholars who subscribed to the notion that all the text in a manuscript, including Qur'anic passages, should match the manuscript text exactly. The majority of modern scholars in the field, however, no longer hold this view; rather, they believe that tafsir scholars would not have objected to the later addition of diacritical marks to the Qur'anic text as necessary, and in fact, would have expected this to be done. This is because they did not consider the Qur'ānic passages as part of their own work; these passages could then be altered according to the received text of the Qur'an. The evidence for this view can be found in a number of texts on manuscript editing."

My first introduction to the Qur'anic commentary attributed to Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq was from a brief mention of it in Annemarie Schimmel's 1975 work, Mystical Dimensions of Islam. This brief "taste" (to use a Sufi term) of Shi'i and Sufi hermeneutics whetted my appetite for more, and in fact, led me to begin my studies of the Arabic language.  What you have in front of you now is a complete English translation of the commentary.  Like mystical commentary itself, Farhana Mayer's translation, notes and analysis address many layers of meaning and different kinds of readers.  For scholars of Islamic texts, she has provided invaluable notes on how specific Arabic terms are used and their relationship to other areas of Islamic thought.  For those interested in the Qu'ran, she has given us a very readable but accurate translation of a highly influential and early mystical commentary.  The accompanying analysis of its themes and methodologies skillfully illuminates the coherency of what might otherwise seem atomistic.  For those who read works such as this one for their ongoing power to inspire, the subtlety and richness of Ja'far al-Sadiq's comments are fully on display here.  In short, Farhana Mayer has provided an exquisite "setting" for these beautiful gems.  Her efforts are our good fortune.

Kristin Zahra Sands is a Professor of Islamic Studies at Sarah Lawrence College and the author of Sufi Commentaries on the Qur'an in Classical Islam.
  
"Spiritual Gems is a truly seminal text in the Islamic tradition of esoteric exegesis.  It helps to reveal the reason why Ja'far al-Sadiq is to be appreciated not only as an Imam within Shi'a Islam, but also as one of the most important masters of Sufi gnosis, and a pivotal figure in the tradition of spiritual commentary on the Holy Qur'an."
- Reza Shah-Kazemi, Ismaeli Institute of London

Ja'far al-Sadiq is believed to be the sixth infallible Imam, or spiritual leader, and successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He is the founder of Shia fiqh, known as Ja'fari jurisprudence. He was an astronomer, an alchemist, an Islamic scholar and theologian, a writer, a philosopher, a physician, and a physicist. Farhana Mayer studied Arabic and Islamic studies, specialising in Qur'anic hermeneutics, at the University of Oxford, where she received her bachelor's and master's degrees. In addition to her independent research on interpretations of the Qur'an, she has worked for the Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge, and is currently with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, where she is a researcher and editor in the Qur'anic Studies Unit. She is co-volume editor of volume one of the IIS/OUP Anthology of Qur'anic Commentaries series: On the Nature of God (2008).


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