Now for something rather different. Here we have an early example of Sufi Qur’an exegesis, composed by the eleventh century Sufi al-Sulamī; it will be followed in a day or two with an excerpt from a much later Moroccan Sufi, ibn ‘Ajiba. Hermeneutically, al-Sulamī’s exegetical moves here are not terribly different from his more exoteric contemporaries. For instance, in interpreting the tricky term al-kawthar, where other exegetes expand upon the term using ‘standard’ Islamic concepts, al-Sulamī deploys Sufi ideas and terms as possible explanations. As with the non-Sufi commentaries, all of his possible explanations follow from the exegetical commonplace, well established by the eleventh century, that al-kawthar was either ‘abundance of good’ (which could encompass, as we have seen, virtually anything) or ‘a river in Paradise.’ Al-Sulamī follows from both, expanding upon them, but from a Sufi perspective.
Also similar hermeneutically to other commentators is the Sufi ‘occasion of revelation’ included here. Or at least its form reminds us of an occasion of revelation story- in fact, its inclusion of the occasion of revelation of the verse in question is only a secondary component of the story. The scripture references reinforce the story, which itself does relatively little to explain the verse at hand. Rather, this is perhaps less an occasion of revelation story as it is an instance of what Gerhard Bowering has described as a process in which particular ‘key-notes, words, or phrases set off’ a mystical commentator into a story or explanation or burst of poetry. While all tafsīr- Sufi and non-Sufi- tends to be rather free-flowing, Sufi tafsīr in particular tends to have a measure of freedom and sometimes seeming randomness that sets it apart from other forms of Islamic exegesis. Perhaps this is intentional: like mystical experience itself, the ‘inner’ appreciation of the text is harder to control, is more ‘random’ and organic. And also like mystical experience, perhaps the apparent dissonance of conflicting opinions, one after another, is the point: that all of these senses and interpretations can coexit, because of the ultimate inexpressibility of the inner experience, of the inner meaning.
His saying, exalted is He: ‘Verily, We have given you al-kawthar.’ Al-Sādiq said about His saying ‘I have given you al-kawthar’: [it is] a light in your [Muhammad’s] heart, that is on account of Me, and it cuts you off from what is other than Me. He [al-Sādiq] also said: intercession (al-shifā’a) for your community (ummatika).
One of them said: ‘We have given you’ miracles which increase in number the people of compliance (ahl al-ijāba) in accordance with your summoning. And ibn ‘Attā’ said: [al-kawthar is] the message and prophethood. And ibn ‘Attā’ said: [al-kawthar is] knowledge of My Lordship, and being singled out by My unicity, My power, and My will. And Sahl [al-Tustarī] said: [al-kawthar is] the basin [in Paradise], you give to drink whom you will by My permission, and you forbid [to drink from the basin] whom you will by My permission.
Al-Qāsim said about His saying, ‘Verily, the one who hates you, he is cut off (al-abtar),’ that is, out of commission, cut off from the good things of the two worlds together.
Abū Sa’īd al-Qarashī said: when there descended upon the Prophet, peace and prayers of God be upon him, [the verse] ‘O those who are summoned, desire from your Lord the means, closeness.’ The Prophet said: ‘O Lord, you took Ibrahīm as a friend (khalīlan), and Mūsā as a spokesman (kalīman), so with what do you distinguish me?’ Then God, exalted is He, sent down [the verse] ‘Have We not opened your chest?’ But he [Muhammad] was not content with that, so God sent down [the verse] ‘Did He not find you an orphan then give [you] shelter?’ But he was not content with that, and He changed him so as to not be content, because reliance upon one’s state (al-hāl) is the cause of the cutting off of the highest degree [i.e., being content with a lower spiritual state prevents the attainment of the highest spiritual state]. So God sent down [the verse] ‘Verily, We have given you al-kawthar,’ but he was not content with that until, as we report, Jibrīl, peace and prayers of God be upon him, said: ‘Verily, God, exalted is He, greets you with peace, saying: “If I have taken Ibrahīm as a friend, Mūsā as a spokesmen, then I have taken you as a beloved one (habīban) and as My power, for I have prefered My beloved over My friend and My spokesman.”’ So he [Muhammad] was content, and this is more glorious than [the state of] satisfaction because of this audacity of speech and argument, because satisfaction is for the beloved, while distraction and expansion are for the friend. Or have you not looked to the story of Ibrahīm, prayers of God be upon him, and his state was that of glad tidings; he argued with Us and he is [in the state of] expansion/joy.
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