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The Prolegomena to the [Qur.sup.[contains]]an [Bayan fi tafsir al-[Qur.sup.[contains]]an].

The Prolegomena to the [Qur.sup.[contains]]an [Bay[bar{a}]n fi tafs[bar{i}]r al-[Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n]. By AL-SAYYID AB[bar{U}] AL-Q[bar{A}]SIM AL-M[bar{U}]SAW[bar{I}] AL-[KH[bar{U}].sup.[contains]][bar{I}]. Translated with an introduction by ABDULAZIZ A. SACHEDINA. New York: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1998. Pp. 280. $60.

Abu 'l-Q[bar{a}]sim al-M[bar{u}]saw[bar{i}] al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}] was one of the most influential Im[bar{a}]m[bar{i}] [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]][bar{i}] leaders of the twentieth century. His name is not, however, well known outside a restricted [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]][bar{i}] circle of scholars and followers. Originally from Khoi in Azerbaijan, Iran, al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}] lived and taught for the greater part of his life in Najaf, Iraq. Unlike his more famous contemporary, the Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini (d. 1989), he attempted to shun the political limelight but became embroiled, despite himself, in the volatile political events of the period. Although Khomeini, particularly in Western media perceptions, overshadowed any other [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]][bar{i}] cleric, al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}] had the largest following among the Im[bar{a}]m[bar{i}] (Twelver) [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]]a outside of Iran.

Among al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}]'s chief works are the Ajwad al-taqr[bar{i}]r[bar{a}]t, a book on the principles of jurisprudence, a multivolume work known as [Mu.sup.[subset]]jam rij[bar{a}]l al-hadith, and al-Bay[bar{a}]n fi tafs[bar{i}]r al-[Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n (lit., "Clarification regarding exegesis of the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n"). The last has now been translated under the title The Prolegomena to the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n by Professor Abdulaziz Sachedina, who was approached by al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}] himself through his son, Sayyid Muhammad Taq[bar{i}], to undertake this project in 1991. As Sachedina points out in his introduction to the translation, the relevance of the work lies in the fact that it provides and elaborates upon "exegetic principles for searching for historical precedents and for extracting the doctrinal and juridical principles from precise references in the [Qur.sup.[contains]]an that are relevant to contemporary situations" and thus "stands within a long and creative history in the development of the [Qur.sup.[contains]]anic exegesis in Islam" (p. 20). In this introductory section, the translator provides a brief and useful sketch of al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}]'s early life and education, which in itself is a revealing expos[acute{e}] of the intellectual and religious tenor of the times. Educated traditionally in the religious schools of Najaf, al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}] achieved eminence in his field early. His teachers and contemporaries read like a who's who of prominent twentieth-century [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]][bar{i}] scholars: the ayatollahs Shaykh al-[Shar[bar{i}].sup.[subset]]a and Mahd[bar{i}] al-M[bar{a}]zandar[bar{a}]n[bar{i}], who were among his teachers; Ayatollah Gulp[bar{a}]yg[bar{a}]n[bar{i}], Muhammad B[bar{a}]qir al-Sadr, and Sayyid [Al[bar{i}].sup.[subset]] al-Husayn[bar{i}] al-S[bar{i}]st[bar{a}]n[bar{i}], who were among his associates. The last, al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}]'s disciple, would come to be recognized as the [marja.sup.[subset]] al-taql[bar{i}]d of the [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]]a primarily outside of Iran after al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}]'s death in 1992.

The Prolegomena is divided into thirteen chapters that discuss among other matters the notion of the inimitability ([i.sup.[subset]]j[bar{a}]z) of the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n, the seven Sunn[bar{i}] canonical readings, the protection of the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n from alteration, the compilation of the sacred text, literal interpretation of the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n, and abrogation in the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n. One chapter deals with exegetical principles and another resurrects a medieval controversy: the notion of the createdness or uncreatedness of the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n. Al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}] has firm and eloquent opinions on many of these issues. On perusal of his book, it becomes clear that the Prolegomena is primarily an apologetic work directed at two main audiences: Sunnis on the one hand and, to a lesser extent, non-Muslim scholars and polemicists on the other.

As an example of the first kind of apologetics, there is a lengthy excursus on the issue of the compilation of the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n. Al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}] discounts Sunn[bar{i}] claims that the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n was collected during Ab[bar{u}] Bakr's caliphate, on the basis that the had[bar{i}]ths adduced as proof-texts in support of these claims are [bar{a}]h[bar{a}]d (solitary) traditions, a common [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]][bar{i}] polemical argument. He similarly dismisses the validity of the seven [Qur.sup.[contains]]anic readings ([qir[bar{a}].sup.[contains]][bar{a}]t) and the [sab.sup.[subset]]at ahruf (commonly understood as seven dialectal versions different from the seven readings) accepted by Sunn[bar{i}]s. With regard to the notion of tahrif (alteration of the original text of the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n), always a sensitive point of contention between Sunn[bar{i}]s and the [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]]a, al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}] accepts traditions imputing alteration that emanate from the infallible Imams in spite of the less than sterling reputations of some of the narrators of such traditions, thus displaying mild pro-Akhb[bar{a}]r[bar{i}] proclivities. But he also hastens to explain away the texts (mut[bar{u}]n) of these traditions by stating, for example with regard to one group of traditions, that tahrif did not occur with regard to the actual wording of the sacred text but was rather due "to the differences among the readers, and the applications of their personal judgment in the readings" and to the exegetical activity of Sunn[bar{i}] commentators who explained "the verses at variance with their actual meanings" (p. 157). This is, of course, not original. Al-Kulayn[bar{i}] (d. 941) in his al-K[bar{a}]fi, for example, records a tradition in which Ab[bar{u}] [Abd.sup.[subset]] All[bar{a}]h [sc., the sixth Imam, [Ja.sup.[subset]]far al-S[bar{a}]diq] is quoted as saying, "Indeed the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n is one and it descended from the One. The differences, however, come from the narrators (al-ruw[bar{a}]t; see Us[bar{u}]l al-K[bar{a}]fi [Beirut, 1990], 2: 594). An important historical consequence of this misreading of the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n by the commonality of Muslims, as the [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]]a came to maintain, has been the usurpation of the rights of the Prophet's family (ahl al-bayt) to lead the Muslim polity. From this vantage point, leadership in the formative period of Islam was thus perceived as having been determined not so much by political exigencies but rather, in a Foucauldian sense, by the politics of interpretation.

With regard to apologetics concerning the People of the Book, the chapter on "The Inimitability of the [Qur.sup.[contains]]an" is particularly devoted to proving the superiority of the [Qur.sup.[contains]]an over the Old and New Testaments by showing "to what lowly level do they [sc., the latter two] reduce these godly emissaries [the prophets]!" (p. 50). Thus, al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}] goes on to state that Genesis 2:16-17 indicates that God had lied to Abraham about the tree of knowledge and was fearful that Adam would become a rival to Him; chapter 12 of Genesis suggests that Abraham, by lying about Sarah, caused the pharaoh to take her for his wife; chapter 1 of Hosea relates that God ordered Hosea to commit harlotry; chapters 2 of John, 11 of Matthew, and 7 of Luke state that Jesus was a habitual imbiber of wine, etc. In contrast to these scriptures, al-[Kh[bar{u}].sup.[contains]][bar{i}] points out, the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n does not ascribe such abominable behavior to the prophets nor does it blaspheme God in such a manner, thus pointing to its divine provenance and, one is led to conclude, to its immunity to corruption.

These issues, and many more, are made accessible to the English-speaking reader in Sachedina's able translation. Minor cavils with the book are as follows. In a few cases, it would have been helpful to indicate the original Arabic terms corresponding to their translations. For example, on p. 71, in reference to the third/ninth century [Mu.sup.[subset]]tazil[bar{i}] al-Nazz[bar{a}]m's belief that human beings could not imitate the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n because they are "kept away" from such an enterprise, it would be useful to mention the Arabic word "sarfa" here which, after all, became a technical term. With regard to the term taw[bar{a}]tur, the translation "uninterrupted transmission" does not convey the full range of meanings contained in it. Taw[bar{a}]tur refers as well to the widespread dissemination of a had[bar{i}]th in each generation of its transmission; uninterruptedness is of course an important component but even more important is profusion in the lines of transmission. For Allahu akbar, we have the rather unusual and unnecessarily transposed translation "Greater is God" (p. 81, note 7). Minor errors in transcription were noticed; for example, Ibn Habb[bar{a}]n (p. 170) should read Ibn Hibb[bar{a}]n and [Barr[bar{a}].sup.[contains]] b. [bar{A}]zib (p. 125) should be corrected to [Bar[bar{a}].sup.[contains]] b. [bar{A}]zib. Almajeste [of Ptolemy] (p. 74) should be rendered as Almagest; the name of the eleventh-century exegete given as al-[Tha.sup.[subset]][bar{a}]lib[bar{i}] (p. 246) should be corrected to al-[Tha.sup.[subset]]lab[bar{i}] (p. 1035-36); al-ah[bar{a}]d on p. 105 should be rendered as al-[bar{a}]h[bar{a}]d. The death date of [Al[bar{i}].sup.[subset]] b. Ab[bar{i}] T[bar{a}]lib given as 660 of the common era (p. 3) should be corrected to 661 and Muammad on the same page corrected to Muhammad.

The translator in his introduction states that "there is an implicit admission in The Prolegomena that understanding the variations and disagreements among Muslim exegetes requires an understanding of the political and social forces that influenced their interpretations of the 'occasions of revelations' (asb[bar{a}]b al-nuz[bar{u}]l)" (p. 19). Certainly, the exegete is very much a product of his own times; in the Prolegomena itself we find ample reflection of the social and political milieu of its composition. For example, the Prolegomena demonstrates that certain schismatic issues which exercised medieval Muslim society continue to be relevant today; the notions of tahr[bar{i}]f, abrogation of specific [Qur.sup.[contains]]anic verses, the history of the collection of the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n, and authoritative interpretation of [Qur.sup.[contains]]anic passages still demarcate creedal boundaries. In the aftermath of the successful [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]][bar{i}] revolution in Iran in the latter part of this century, these issues must be grappled with and forcefully restated in the face of increasing Sunn[bar{i}]-[Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]][bar{i}] discursive engagements, whether polemic or dialogic. In the twentieth century, non-Muslim views of the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n emanating from the politically ascendant West that are occasionally at odds with traditional Muslim beliefs and scholarship on the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n also have to be contended with, a trend that finds resonance in the Prolegomena. Until very recently, Western scholarship that dealt with modem exegeses of the [Qur.sup.[contains]][bar{a}]n took into account primarily the writings of Sunn[bar{i}] scholars. Now, with the publication of The Prolegomena to the [Qur.sup.[contains]]an, the thought of a major modern [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]][bar{i}] scholar has been made accessible and invites a treatment of the principles of Islamic exegetical activity in the twentieth century that is inclusive of both Sunn[bar{i}] and [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]][bar{i}] views. One hopes similar translations of other [Sh[bar{i}].sup.[subset]][bar{i}] scholarly works will follow in its wake.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:AFSARUDDIN, ASMA
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:2186
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