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From the earliest centuries of Islam, Muslim mystics, or ‘Sufis’ as they are now mostly called, reflected upon the verses of the Qurʾān, expounding their insights and inspired comments to others who might benefit from them. These comments were not intended to contradict or stand in place of the literal readings of the Scripture; rather they were a way of going beyond them in order to draw out inner meanings that sprang from and were informed by, states, stations, and spiritual realities experienced by the mystics. This process of eliciting inner meanings from the Qurʾān, termed by some Sufis ‘istinbāṭ’, meaning literally ‘drawing up water from a well’, might take the form of brief, elliptical and allusive comments, or lengthier and more detailed explanations. These early comments were eagerly memorized and passed on by the mystics’ associates and followers since they were seen not only as a profound way of understanding the Qurʾān but also as a source of guidance and illumination for anyone aspiring to travel the spiritual path.

As with other religious sciences, the early esoteric interpretations of the Qurʾān were, to begin with, mainly transmitted through the oral tradition, and for the most part they appear to have remained as scattered comments preserved in disparate sources until the time when the fifth/eleventh-century Sufi, AbūʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī (d. 412/1021) compiled his anthology of Sufi Qurʾān commentary, the Ḥaqāʾiq al-tafsīr (‘Realities’ or ‘Truths of Interpretation’). Sulamī arranged all the exegetical material he could gather, comments that had been attributed to many different mystics, in a verse-by-verse commentary on the Qurʾān. The Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿaẓīm (‘Commentary on the Great Qurʾān’) of Sahl b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Tustarī is remarkable in having been compiled much earlier than this, by Tustarī’s immediate disciples and within one generation of his death, and in having been preserved as a commentary on the Qurʾān through an authenticated chain of transmission, until it was first written down by a scribe in the mid-sixth/twelfth century. Thus it may claim to be the earliest extant Sufi Qurʾān commentary ascribed to a single author. What is more, Tustarī’s disciples integrated within this exegetical corpus a large number of apposite sayings of their master as well as accounts of events in his life. This makes it possible to situate the interpretations within the compass of thought and to gain a greater understanding of the profound connection between mystical doctrines and his exegesis of the Qurʾān.


However, it is a fortunate mark in obtaining manuscripts of the Tafsīr, and done consultation of manuscripts throughout the process of translation for social good. This will enable us to fill in a number of lacunae, and correct numerous mistakes in the current published edition of society. All the additions that were made on the basis of these manuscripts would be clearly marked between half brackets, thus: ⸢…⸣, and referenced in the footnotes of society chapters along with the folio numbers of each manuscript, and likewise, any corrections made would be recorded in the senior notes. The corrections made to the text shouldn’t be exhaustive but assisted to clarify unnecessarily obscure passages. For a Sufi text that is so allusive in nature, and in which terms are used in subtly different ways in various contexts, rather than providing a glossary of technical terms, it might be more useful to compile a detailed index, in which various meanings and applications of a particular term will be given along with the references to the relevant page and note numbers. It is worth explaining here the use of a few of the terms that occur frequently in volumes.

Dhū’l-Nūn was known as ‘the leader (imām) among the Sufis’ and is said to have been the first mystic to have made a distinction between allusion (ishāra) and outward expression (ʿibāra), as well as devising the concept of mystical states and stations. As for Tustarī, one anecdote certainly indicates that he had knowledge of alchemy, and he included both alchemy and astronomy or astrology in his categorization of four branches of knowledge, comprising: al-ṭibb (medicine), al-nijāma (astronomy/astrology), al-diyāna (religion) and al-kīmiyāʾ (chemistry/alchemy). Among the works attributed to Tustarī is an astrological chart, known as a Zāʾirja which, if it ever existed, has not survived. An extant treatise on the significance of the letters of the alphabet is attributed to him, known as Risālat al-ḥurūf, and Tustarī is reported to have commiserated with another mystic, Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥusayn b. Makkī al-Ṣubayḥī, who was being persecuted for his knowledge of ‘the divine names and attributes and of the science of the letters’ (ʿilm al-asmāʾ wa’l-ṣifāt wa ʿilm al-ḥurūf). However, the anecdote which shows Tustarī’s knowledge of alchemy also implies that he did not see fit to practice it himself. His treatise on letters is not concerned with the sciences of jafr or abjad but is concerned with the cosmological symbolism of the letters. Again, it can be said that the examination of Tustarī’s tafsīr and other works attributed to him, as well as the corpus of his sayings that have been preserved in the works of later Sufis, shows the essentially mystical nature of his thought. It appears that at this time there may have been a particular intellectual fluidity, with boundaries of knowledge being less sharply drawn between Sufism other streams of thought. What is remarkable is not the fact that these early mystics should have been in contact with, or have drawn upon, such sources of knowledge, but rather the way in which aspects of this knowledge and terms in which they were expressed were assimilated, and integrated by them, so as to become part of the language of social good they used to expound their doctrines.


As indicated above, the term ‘Sufi’, as a noun or adjective, is now generally used to denote either ‘a proponent of mysticism in Islam’, or ‘related to, and associated with, Islamic mysticism’, respectively. In the Introduction to the Translation, and in some of the notes to translation, the word ‘Sufi’ has been used with this meaning. However, it is worth bearing in mind that this is a retrospective use of the term Sufi, which in the early period was mainly associated with mystics of Baghdad, and only gradually, from the sixth/twelfth century on, gained wider currency in the Muslim world. Tustarī never once uses the Arabic equivalent for ‘Sufi’ in his Tafsīr (that is, taṣawwuf or ṣūfī); instead, he speaks of the ‘mystic’ (ʿārif, pl. ʿurafāʾ) or the ‘friend of God’ (walī, pl. awliyāʾ). The second term that should be mentioned here is the word maʿrifa, a term applied by Sufis to mean a divinely bestowed mystical or experiential knowledge of God that is beyond the level of knowledge attained merely through instruction or discursive reasoning. For this, use the conventional English translation ‘gnosis’. The all-important word tawḥīd meaning literally ‘making or understanding as one’, be translated as either ‘attesting to’ or ‘professing God’s oneness’, appears to imply an active commitment to belief in the oneness of God, or ‘realizing God’s oneness’, when seems to imply by tawḥīd a more profound mystical experience of God’s oneness. Retaining the masculine gender in translating verbs and pronouns, assuming them to be intended inclusively. Likewise in the introductions to various translations, the use of the masculine gender or the terms ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ should be intended to be inclusive of both genders.

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.

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