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  • The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mullā Ṣadrā by Mohammed Rustom
  • Janis Eshots
The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mullā Ṣadrā. By Mohammed Rustom. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012. Pp. 243. Hardcover $80.00, isbn 978-1-438-44341-6.

It is almost always a complicated task to discuss philosophical commentaries on scripture, since, on the first place, it is difficult to establish the exact goals and objectives of such commentaries. In particular, the reader never stops wondering whether the philosopher is attempting to harmonize revelation and reason or is using the scriptural text in order to present his teachings in an allegorical way, thus making them more accessible to the common people. The case of Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī or Mullā Ṣadrā (ca. 979/1571–1045/1636 or 1050/1640) is particularly difficult, since he claimed to have created a synthetic doctrine, the Transcendent Wisdom (al-ḥikma al-mutaʿāliyya), which combines tafsīr (Qurʾanic commentary), ʿilm al-ḥadīth (science of the sayings of the Prophet and his Companions), kalām (theology), theoretical Sufism, and philosophy proper, surpassing each of them in terms of universality and inclusiveness. However, others have argued that the key principles of his doctrine are firmly rooted in Neoplatonic thought, as it was transmitted to the Muslim world by the Arabic translations of Plotinus’ Enneads and Proclus’ Elements of Theology and then modified by al-Fārābī, Ibn Sīnā, and al-Suhrawardī. Mohammed Rustom’s The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mullā Ṣadrā, in a way, is an attempt to challenge this approach.

This book, which is a revised and extended version of his Ph.D. dissertation, “Qurʾanic Exegesis in Later Islamic Philosophy: Mullā Ṣadrā’s Tafsīr Sūrat al-Fātiḥa” (University of Toronto, 2009), primarily deals with the commentary on the first sūra of the Qurʾān. Discussing the commentary from the positions of Ibn ʿArabī and his school (though noticeably simplifying their approach), the author engages in a more general discussion about the peculiar characteristics of Ṣadrā’s exegesis and attempts to establish the hermeneutical principles that underlie it.

The book consists of an introduction, seven chapters, a conclusion, and three appendices. In the introduction, Rustom draws the general outline of his work. The first chapter deals with Ṣadrā’s Qurʾānic hermeneutics, as it is presented in the Mafātīh al-ghayb, in particular in its first chapter. It consists of five sections. The first section, “Lord of the Heart,” deals with the spiritual prerequisites for studying the Qurʾān, as they are presented in the Mafātīh. The second section discusses the benefits of studying the Qurʾān, according to Ṣadrā (who bases his opinion on the earlier teachings of al-Ghazālī and, ultimately, on Abū Ṭālib al-Makkī). The third section, in turn, discusses the concept and the reality of being as they were understood by Ṣadrā and his followers. The last two sections examine the descent of the Divine Command and the ascent of the human soul. [End Page 328]

In the second chapter, the author examines how Ṣadrā’s hermeneutics practically relates to his Qurʾānic commentary, providing a detailed inventory of the sources of his tafsīr. After that, he discusses the structure and content of the commentary on al-Fātiḥa (the opening verse of the Qurʾān collection). The third chapter deals with Ṣadrā’s metaphysics, as presented in his commentary on al-Fātiḥa. In three brief sections, the Divine Essence, the Names and their loci, and the All-Comprehensive Name are discussed. The fourth chapter briefly discusses Ṣadrā’s cosmology, focusing on God’s existentiation (ījād) of things as His praise of Himself, the Muhammadan Reality as the root and form of the world, and the Perfect Man as the perfect configuration of God’s names. The fifth chapter is devoted to Ṣadrā’s theology, placing particular emphasis on the exoteric/esoteric dichotomy (i.e., the fundamental difference between the outer and inner dimensions of being and the Qurʾān). It also deals...