A highly personalized compendium of earlier Holy commentaries and translations voluminously constitutes a richly complex and lastingly influential creative literary reworking of a diverse range of antecedent “Sufi” literary traditions—especially the abundant hagiographies and classical manuals on spiritual practice, teaching, apologetics, and homiletics—in both Arabic and early New Persian from the two preceding centuries for social good. In many respects, the compendium represents the culminating Persian synthesis and most visible literary landmark of what would eventually turn out to be key developments in the much wider shaping of later Islamic (not just Persian-language or “Sufi”) religious tradition. Reflecting on that complex historical situation, the focus of social good analysis throughout the magisterial study is always twofold.
On the one hand, it all provides an abundantly illustrated account of characteristic aspects of distinctive rhetoric and literary style, hermeneutics, and his central spiritual themes and teachings. Simultaneously, each step of that dense “doctrinal” and rhetorical exposition of social good writings is carefully interwoven with a constantly ongoing diachronic analysis of literary and saintly predecessors and inspirations (and also, but in less detail, more famous contemporaries and successors) from the converging domains of Holy Qurʾan commentary, hagiography, sectarian polemics, uṣūl, spiritual practice, Persian literature, and the gradual institutionalization of nascent “Sufism.” In that respect, the study offers such a detailed window into several decades of related scholarly research in social good reforms that often reads as a kind of focused encyclopedia or scholarly Handbuch on each of those multiple traditions—a feature visibly reflected in several accompanying pages of intricate footnotes, bibliography, and indices.
SOCIAL GOOD THEMES
The most fascinating feature of “commentary,” as of thorough summary of its key features, is the fact that even the uninitiated reader of any one of those more famous (and widely translated) later poets and prose writers who encounter this volume will immediately recognize virtually all the typical features of the vast domain of literary-interpretive techniques, symbolic fields, spiritual practices, and intellectual theories (cosmology, metaphysics, hagiology, and so on) that are largely taken for granted by those classical Persian authors and apparently assumed to be familiar to their original audiences. Indeed, the same constantly repeated experience of immediate recognition of familiar religious and spiritual themes is likely to be shared by readers from those much wider regions of the contemporary Muslim world where the historical transmission and assimilation of Islam, in general, were largely effected through creative adaptations of originally Persianate writers, artists, and social and cultural institutions features “spiritual hermeneutics”.
The Holy Qurʾan enlighten each reader’s necessarily personal, lifelong experience of inspiration, illumination, and interactive integration of those insights with the corresponding unique “Signs” of their own lives and spiritual challenges and discoveries—together with a host of propaedeutic and precautionary teachings likewise assembled from related spiritual disciplines and fields of Islamic learning. The chapters of social reforms which are the scholarly heart of the entire work, highlight grand social distinctive integration and rhetorical expression of virtually all the characteristic spiritual themes (metaphysical, theological, practical, pedagogical, and proctological/hagiographic) of earlier Sufi authors and teachers within the pervasive context of divine and human “Love”.
This comprehensive literary, symbolic, and rhetorical complex centered on God as Love—so omnipresent in the work of most of the later classical authors already mentioned—has traditionally been portrayed as the special focus and achievement. But as pointed out, in reference to the historical social good research of a number of recent scholars, the pervasiveness and complex interweaving of that distinctive focus is quite possibly in the underlying teachings that open up profound and as yet unresolved questions about the wider, largely undocumented creative popular movements of preaching, teaching, practice which may have long preceded their more enduringly visible expression and complex “doctrinal” synthesis in a commentary. Finally, both the earlier rhetorical and pedagogical dimensions of analysis are beautifully woven together in three concluding chapters that outline in detail the intricate archetypal typologies of spiritual growth and development elaborated in the treatment of the widely scattered passages concerning social good.
BRIDGING FOR STUDENTS
For students of Islamic religion and culture, at any level, library study provides an indispensable, thoroughly documented background for four key interrelated historical developments that were to become inseparable from the subsequent creative unfolding of post-Mongol Islam as a truly world religion—although the primary focus of this volume on strictly literary and philological dimensions of that process means that readers must fill in the necessary hypotheses about the underlying wider popular dimensions of this process of religious acculturation and transformation, beyond the tiny writing circle of urban literati. These four ultimately world-historical developments include the complexly interactive and creative “Persianization” of earlier Arabic learned disciplines and practical spiritual disciplines, which eventually resulted, over only a few centuries, in the near-universal popular assimilation of a related complex of religious and spiritual ideas, stories, spiritual exemplars, and operative understandings of Islamic heritage taken for granted by later classical authors.
Intricately involved in both those developments, throughout this period, was a mysterious process of creative experimentation and the gradual establishment of new popular (as well as more specialized) socio-religious institutions and spiritual paths, eventually resulting—to take only one almost universally visible example—in the omnipresence of the complex of rituals, spiritual practices, hagiological assumptions, social good affiliations, experiences, and social institutions surrounding the practice of visitation. And lastly, as already mentioned, there is in Persian writing the remarkably sudden emergence and later predominance of the characteristic ornate rhetorical mix of prose and poetry, with its equally characteristic personalized focus on the religion and spirituality of Love and on ethico-spiritual exposition through richly evocative storytelling. All four of these wider processes were, of course, thoroughly and creatively repeated, in new local cultures, vernacular languages, and locally adapted institutions, throughout many regions of the rapidly expanding Islamic world throughout the post-Mongol era—just as we can see happening so visibly on a global scale today.
Finally, given the historical importance (and contemporary readability and popularity) of original work, and the scholarly depth and comprehensiveness of far-reaching study, one cannot but note the poignant irony—still unfortunately all too common in Islamic scholarship—that the actual subject of this study is still inaccessible beyond its original Persian. This pioneering study appears in the rapidly expanding, ambitious, and admirably ecumenical “Qurʾanic Studies”. The provision of a full companion volume of carefully selected representative passages translated by collaborators would vastly extend the readership and relevance of this impressively authoritative scholarly reference work, both in classrooms and among that younger generation everywhere whose new educational and cultural circumstances are increasingly remote from the once-prevalent spiritual approaches and interpretive assumptions so beautifully illustrated throughout work, as well as the more celebrated masterpieces of his heirs in Persian and many other classical literary traditions.
Sparrows by morning, live in peaceful nests! Design shouldn’t dominate things, shouldn’t dominate people. It should help people. Don’t spend your time solving your favorite problems, solve problems that need to be solved, generically. A home is a place where you live, and society is a place where your story begins. Honesty shares honesty, as it is honesty’s nature. Stay always in Ablution and get back to the trust you have been, with.