An article of mine has just been published in the Journal of Qur’anic Studies. In it, I explore the problematic history of Western scholarship on the meaning of “the disconnected letters” (al-ḥurūf al-muqaṭṭa’a) of the Qur’an before turning to the multitude of interpretations that have appeared across the historical Sunni tradition.
I first conceived of the study during my initial dissertation research on al-Qushayrī and his commentary of the Qur’an, Laṭā’if al-ishārāt. Once, I completed that work I immediately resumed my investigation of the disconnected letters and eventually produced the present study. Two acknowledgements, which are regrettably absent from the published version of the article, are in order. First, I presented an earlier version of this work at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion and would like to thank my colleagues in attendance for their helpful advice and insights. Second, I shared this piece again in a departmental seminar at Fairfield University where I benefited immensely from the inquiries and comments of my fellow faculty members.
While browsing the used books in the Sahaflar Çarşısı (located in the Aslıhan Pasajı off of Istiklal Street in Beyoğlu, Istanbul) we came across a corner bookstore called Ayça Kitabevi. Inside I found a stack of mostly old Ottoman books, but intermixed with these works were a few Arabic ones.
After going through the store’s small collection I ended up purchasing a copy of the Qur’an printed in Mecca, whose publication date is unlisted (according to the text this edition was verified in Ramadan 1366/July-August 1947), and a two-volume Arabic tafsīr or commentary of the Qur’an. Both volumes of the text are in fairly poor condition. The cover to volume two, for example, has been previously “repaired” with tape. The tafsīr in question is entitled Kitāb al-Futūḥāt al-rabbāniyya fī tafsīr mā warada fī al-Qurʾān min al-awāmir wa’l-nawāhī al-ilāhiyya and was written by Muḥammad ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Ḥakīm. According to the introduction the author’s full name is Muḥammad ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Ḥakīm Ibn ʿUmar Rāsim b. Ḥusayn b. ʿAbd al-Raḥīm (vol. 1, p. 3). Consulting al-Ziriklī, the author, who also bears the nisba al-Kuraydī, appears to have died in 1324/1906 with this tafsīr listed as his only work of note (al-Ziriklī, al-Aʿlām, vol. 4, p. 24). This date of death cannot be correct if the tafsīr itself is to be believed. The colophon to the second volume states that the work was completed on Monday 29 Safar 1324/23 April 1906. However, the colophon to the first volume states that that volume was completed a year later on 12 Rabīʿ al-Awwal 1325/24 April 1907. It would seem that volume one was finished after volume two and that the author was still alive in 1325/1907.
The text is an aḥkām al-Qur’ān work. Based on the repeated Qur’anic injunction to command the good and forbid the wrong, the book is divided into two volumes; one deals accordingly with divine commands (awāmir) and the other with divine prohibitions (nawāhī). The first volume is 352 pages with 4 additional pages of corrections and the second volume is 354 pages also with 4 pages of corrections. Neither a date of publication or publisher is given in the work. The book appears to be rare. Checking the libraries catalogued on WorldCat the tafsīr only appears in the collection of two libraries: the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis and Brigham Young University. The edition that they have, however, is a later printing. We know this because their edition, which was published in 1936 by Maṭbaʿat el-Mahmūdiyyah in Cairo, has both volumes printed together as one, whereas as the present edition was printed as two separate volumes as it was initially intended.
If anyone can shed further light on this work or its author Muḥammad ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Ḥakīm, it would be greatly appreciated.
While I knew how the book would appear well before it arrived (it is a handsome tome), I was unaware of the readers’ comments that would appear printed on back. They read:
“The detailed analyses and the vast cumulative data presented in Nguyen’s work have produced a fresh, original, thorough and well-articulated book. It has the potential to become one of the main textbooks in the study of Sufism as well as, more generally, in the fields of hermeneutics and medieval Muslim culture.”
-Sara Sviri, Department of Arabic and Department of Comparative Religions, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
“This excellent book is the first in-depth study in English of one of the monuments of Sufi Qur’an commentary, the Laṭāʾif al-ishārāt of Abū’l-Qāsim al-Qushayrī. Clearly written and well-annotated throughout, this timely study brings to light some important and hitherto unexplored aspects of the celebrated Sufi theologian of Nishapur.”
-Annabel Keeler, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge
The praise is generous and undeserved, but heartening nonetheless.
The book has been published by Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies. My experience working with them has been absolutely superb. For more information on the book, including availability, please visit my Lata’if al-ishārāt project page on this site.