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The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mullā Ṣadrā by Mohammed Rustom (review)

From: Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies
Volume 6, Number 3, Summer 2013
pp. 363-365 | 10.1353/isl.2013.0027

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This book is based on a PhD dissertation submitted to the University of Toronto in 2009. It contains seven chapters, three appendixes, a bibliography, and three indexes (covering Qur’anic verses, hadiths, names, and terms). The author argues that Mulla Sadra’s Qur’anic hermeneutics marks ‘the first time in the history of Islamic thought that a philosopher had undertaken such a wide-scale commentary upon the Qurʾān’ (3). What the author means by philosophy in his book is mystic thought. This claim is interesting all the more so because a gap exists in research in the field of mystic Qur’anic hermeneutics. However, the author endeavours to support this thesis with a clear and compelling argument. The volume is torn between being a title on mercy, Mulla Sadra’s mystic views, and Qur’anic hermeneutics. In my view, the author should have chosen one of these topics to develop rather than tackling all of them in 170 pages. Inevitably, the author had to select a preference; he devoted most of his efforts to describe Mulla Sadra’s mystic thought. The latter is unveiled through Mulla Sadra’s commentary on Surat al-Fatihah. As for the problem of mercy, it is treated only in few pages, when dealing with soteriology (101-105); little is said about Qur’anic hermeneutics.

Accordingly, the seven chapters give an overview of Mulla Sadra’s ontology. The first chapter, entitled ‘Qurʾānic hermeneutics’, is dedicated to the relationship between the Qur’an and being. In such a chapter, the reader would expect a discussion of the rules of exegesis applied by Mulla Sadra in his commentary. If the exegete does not explicitly present these rules, then the researcher has to deduce them from the commentary itself. The author did not tread any of these paths. Instead, he discusses Mulla Sadra’s view of being. The second chapter on formal considerations is quite informative as it traces the sources of Mulla Sadra’s interpretation of Q. 1. Indeed, the author displays critical sense here showing several ideas and even paragraphs Mulla Sadra reproduced from Ibn ‘Arabi (d. 1240 ce) without acknowledging the source. By the same token, the author is also able to criticize Mulla Sadra for compiling so many materials in his commentary. However, in the following chapter on metaphysics, the author resumes the exposition of Mulla Sadra’s views on divine essence, largely based on Ibn ‘Arabi’s interpretation of divine names. The same stands in the fourth chapter on cosmology where the author discusses Ibn ‘Arabi’s idea on the Perfect Man as perceived by Mulla Sadra. Although the reader might enjoy reading these flashes of mystic thought, it is still not the topic announced in the introduction. The author entitles the fifth chapter ‘Theology’ while it discusses the divine essence and the Perfect Man. Both topics were covered previously in metaphysics and cosmology. The sixth and the seventh chapters are dedicated to soteriology while, in fact, they discuss, mostly, being and the divine essence.

The author’s method is philological, based on the description, translation and identification of sources. Sometimes, he provides translations of important passages of Mulla Sadra’s commentary. Usually, he paraphrases translated passages and does not proceed to the analysis of concepts or to a constructed argument. Mulla Sadra’s mystic thought – non-systematic by nature – leads the way. The author’s voice becomes louder only when he identifies the sources of Mulla Sadra, a task which he achieves with success. Additionally, three appendixes are included. The first contains translations from Mulla Sadra’s Mafatih al-Ghayb, and contains a few passages on the notion of allegoric interpretation (ta’wil), as endorsed by mystics. Calling this Mulla Sadra’s theory of Qur’anic hermeneutics, as did the author, is an overstatement. This could have been a chance to take Mulla Sadra’s commentary for what it is, an esoteric exegesis.

The translated passages display mystic views of the Qur’an in relation to man, God, and the universe. At best, Mafatih al-Ghayb is a reflection on the Qur’an and not on the rules to interpret it. The next appendix consists of 18 pages of key...



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