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The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mull adr by Mohammed Rustom (review) Abdessamad

The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mull adr by Mohammed Rustom (review)

Abdessamad Belhaj

in Mull adr by Mohammed Rustom (review) Abdessamad Belhaj Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies, Volume 6,

Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies, Volume 6, Number 3, Summer 2013, pp. 363-365 (Article)

Published by ICAS Press DOI: 10.1353/isl.2013.0027

Published by ICAS Press DOI: 10.1353/isl.2013.0027 For additional information about this article

For additional information about this article

Journal of Shi‘a Islamic Studies

Summer 2013 ∙ Vol. VI ∙ No. 3

The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in MullÁ ÑadrÁ by

Mohammed Rustom, 2012. Albany: State University of New York Press,

xii + 243 pp., $ 80.00. isbn: 978-1-43844-341-6 (hbk).

a B d e S S a m a d

B e l h a j

Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

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 QurÞÁn’ (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 ‘QurÞÁnic 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


Book Reviews

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 texts translated from Mulla Sadra’s commentary of al- Fatihah. Finally, the author presents in eight pages the passages Mulla Sadra borrows, without citing the source, from Ibn ‘Arabi’s al-Futuhat al-Makkiyyah. The bibliography is rich; major works of Mulla Sadra and Western literature on Islamic mysticism are used. However, the scarcity of sources of Qur’anic commentary, especially Sufi commentaries, strikes the reader.


Journal of Shi‘a Islamic Studies

Summer 2013 ∙ Vol. VI ∙ No. 3

For example, no traces are to be found of Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami (d. 1021), ‘Abd al-Karim b. Hawazin al-Qushayri (d. 1074), Ruzbihan b. Abi Nasr al-Baqli (d. 1209), or Najm al-Din al-Kubra (d. 1221). Needless to say that any study of Sufi commentary without the above mentioned exegetes is deficient. The author misses here the opportunity to put Mulla Sadra’s commentary in its most legitimate environment, Sufi exegesis. To benefit from this book, the reader should forget about the author’s insistence on Mulla Sadra’s identity as a philosopher. In its place, one should keep in mind that Mulla Sadra’s commentary bears all characteristics of a Sufi tafsir; no systematic views, logic, or linear arguments should be anticipated. In sum, this book is an excellent introduction to Mulla Sadra’s mystic thought as it appears in his commentary of al-Fatihah. Above all, the author explains clearly Mulla Sadra’s concept of being in relation to scripture. Additionally, this book is a fine philological work. Nevertheless, it largely does not expand our knowledge of Mulla Sadra or of Qur’anic mystic exegesis. Rather, it should be considered as a step towards further historical and analytical study of Mulla Sadra’s commentary of the Qur’an.