Sufi Master and Qur'an Scholar
Abu'l-Qasim al-Qushayri and the Lata'if al-isharat
Oxford University Press 2012
The famous Abu’l-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072) is well known as one of the most influential figures in the formative period of Sufism. He was part of a network of prominent Sufis in Nishapur that were shaping the competing forms of spirituality during the eleventh century. Due to this noteworthy role in Sufism al-Qushayri’s work has rarely been examined within the contexts of the concurrent and intimately connected traditions with which he was also engaged. Martin Nguyen, Assistant Professor in the Religious Studies Department at Fairfield University and founder of the great site Islamicana, has meticulously reconstructed the nexus of al-Qushayri’s intellectual field through a close examination of his Qur’an commentary, Lata’if al-isharat (Subtleties of the Signs). In Sufi Master and Qur’an Scholar: Abu’l-Qasim al-Qushayri and the Lata’if al-isharat (Oxford University Press, 2012), part of the Oxford Qur’an series in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, Nguyen draws al-Qushayri’s legal training in the Shafi’i madhhab and his theological positioning the Ash’ari school to the surface. He also demonstrates that al-Qushayri had a continuing exegetical corpus and was long committed to Qur’anic commentary. As the final iteration of his tafsir, the Lata’if points to al-Qushayri’s alignment with a Nishapuri collective of exegetical hermeneutics. Some of the various issues Nguyen’s close reading explores include muhkam and mutashabih (clear and ambiguous) Qur’an verses, naskh (abrogation), the ascension narrative (Q. 53.1-18) comparing al-Qushayri’s Kitab al-Mi’raj and the Lata’if, the disconnected letters in the Qur’an (al-huruf al-muqatta’a), the narrative of Job, anthropomorphism, and the Master and aspirant (Shaykh and murid) relationship. In our conversation we also discussed the notion of tradition, exploring archives and manuscripts, composition and audience, attribution, exoteric versus esoteric commentaries.