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  • Spiritual Gems: The Mystical Qur’an Commentary Ascribed by the Ṣūfīs to Imām Jaʿ far al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/175) trans. and annotated by Farhana Mayer
  • Hamid Algar
Spiritual Gems: The Mystical Qur’an Commentary Ascribed by the Ṣūfīs to Imām Jaʿ far al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/175), trans. and annotated by Farhana Mayer, 2011. Louisville, Kentucky: Fons Vitae, lxi + 273 pp, $24.95. isbn: 978-1-89178-530-6 (pbk).

Sixth among the imams of the Ahl al-Bayt, Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq’s centrality to Twelver Shiʿism transcends by far the purely numerical, something that requires no elaboration for readers of this journal. Occasional attempts have nonetheless been made to align him with Sunni Islam, or even to appropriate him for it outright.1 More commonly encountered and less implausible are the connections with Sufi tradition with which Imam Jaʿfar has been credited. Many references to Imam Jaʿfar are to be found in early Sufi texts, and he is included in the lines of spiritual transmission claimed by several Sufi orders.2 Impressive, too, are the numerous works with Sufi content with which he has been credited.3 They include brief texts such as Miṣbāḥ al-Sharīʿah wa Miftāḥ al-Ḥaqīqah, regarded as authentic by Ayatollah Ḥusayn Ansāriyān, who wrote on it a massive commentary replete with hadith from the Ahl al-Bayt and citations from Shiʿi gnostics such as Fayḍ-i Kāshānī.4

Best known and most influential among works of this type attributed to Imam Jaʿfar is the collection of exegetical comments incorporated by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī (d. 330/942) in his Ḥaqāʾiq al-Tafsīr, one of the earliest Sufi commentaries on the Qurʾan; it has now been translated into English by Farhana Mayer as Spiritual Gems: The Mystical Qurʾān Commentary Ascribed by the Ṣūfīs to Imām Jaʿ far al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/175). The caution thus displayed with respect to the attribution is contradicted by a description of the book on its back cover as, straightforwardly, an ‘important corpus from al-Ṣādiq.’ As Mayer makes plain in her lengthy [End Page 507] introduction, her main concern is with the intrinsic worth of the text, not with its ultimate authorship (xxv). But were it not for the attribution to Imam Jaʿfar, these exiguous exegetical notes might not have received the attention they have, and it can be argued, too, that the understanding of at least some of them is dependent on identifying the author.

In her survey of the problem (xxv–xxix), Mayer first discusses the similarities and differences between Sulamī’s text of the commentary attributed to Imam Jaʿfar and what has been falsely regarded as a straightforwardly Shiʿi recension of the same by al-Nuʿmānī. She then summarizes the findings of three scholars who have previously addressed the topic: Louis Massignon, Paul Nwyia (whose edition of Sulamī’s text she includes at the end of the book), and Gerhard Böwering (although she makes no mention of Böwering’s article, ‘The Light Verse: Qurʾānic Text and Sufi Interpretation’, in Oriens XXXVI (2001), 113–44, where he straightforwardly characterises the text as ‘pseudo-Jaʿfar’ [135]). Two, far more detailed analyses of the problem, unmentioned by Mayer, also deserve attention: Akbar Thubūt, ‘Nigāhī bih Ḥaqāʾiq al-Tafsīr va Ziyādat-i Ḥaqāʾiq al-Tafsīr va Barrasī-yi Pārihʾī az Ārā-yi Muḥaqqiqān dar īn Bāb’, in Āyīnih-yi Mīrāth, IV (1), Spring 1385 AH (solar)/2006, 51–72; and Yunus Emre Gördük, İmam Cafer Es-Sadık ve Ona İsnad Edilen İşarî Tefsir (Istanbul: İnsan Yayınları, 2011).5 Both reach the same inconclusive conclusion: that although the text cannot integrally be ascribed to Imam Jaʿfar with absolute certainty, parts of it may indeed have been derived from his teachings (Gördük, 216; Thubūt, 52).

Especially problematic in the text attributed to Imam Jaʿfar is an effusive laudation of the first...


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