Research Seminar: ‘The hermeneutical matrix of the Ja`fari comments in Sulami’s Haqa’iq al-tafsir’

On Thursday 4th Novemeber 2015, the Al-Mahdi Institute held a research seminar entitled “Exegesis, ontological hierarchy and spiritual alchemy: the hermeneutical matrix of the Ja`fari comments in Sulami’s (d.1021) Haqa’iq al-tafsir” by Dr Farhana Mayer (Independent scholar). The seminar was attended by AMI students, faculty and interested members of the public.

Dr Farhana Mayer studied Arabic and Islamic studies, specialising in Qur’anic hermeneutics, at the University of Oxford. In addition to her independent research on interpretations of the Qur’an, she has worked for the Islamic Texts Society and the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, where she researched and lectured in Qur’an, tafsir and Sufism. She also taught a course on Sufism at SOAS. Her annotated translation of the exegesis ascribed by the Sufis to Ja`far al-Sadiq is entitled Spiritual Gems (2010) from Fons Vitae, and she is co-translator and editor of volume I of the IIS/OUP Anthology of Qur’anic Commentaries: On the Nature of the Divine (2008).

Her abstract reads “This paper will explore the exegetical comments ascribed to Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq (d. 765) in the compendium of Qur’an commentary entitled Haqa’iq al-tafsir, compiled by Abu `Abd al-Rahman M. b. al-Husayn al-Sulami. The intricate connections made between interpretive methods, ontological levels and spiritual alchemy, which are the framework of the hermeneutics in these Ja`farite comments, will be highlighted. The subtle and supple interweaving correspondences between exegesis of the Book, exegesis of the human being, and exegesis of the macrocosm which are embedded in this corpus of comments display a worldview of intimate overlaps between God, revelation, the human being and the external cosmos. The Sulami-Ja`farite corpus is arguably the earliest extant mystical Qur’an commentary and contains examples of methods of Muslim esoteric interpretation, such as the ishari methods of tatbiq, ta’wil, and jafr, which were then used comprehensively by later commentators. Relevant historical resonances with other traditions will be noted.”

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