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Abstract

This study examines Shams al-Dīn al-Fanārī’s (d. 1431) Qur’an commentary on the chapter al-Fātiḥa with an aim to demonstrate how he skillfully expresses Akbarī ideas (mostly Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī’s) regarding Scriptural hermeneutics by employing the terminology of the classical Islamic scholarly tradition. I argue that the appropriation of Qūnawī’s hermeneutics led Fanārī to question the nature and the authority of Tafsīr (genre of classical Qur’an commentary) and eventually to develop an exegetical theory that emphasizes the multilayering of Qur’anic meanings, including their esoteric sense, and the openness of the Qur’anic text to endless attempts at interpretation, not just those interpretations based on traditional narrations. He considers the multiple layers of Qur’anic meaning in connection with the hierarchical structure of existence. At the level of esoteric sense, according to Fanārī, the text encodes the secrets of existence. To unveil these secrets, the task of the commentator involves not only intellectual but also spiritual, experience. In this regard, in Fanārī’s commentary, the Qur’an functions as an epistemological medium that connects Akbarīan ontology to spirituality. Regarding Fanārī’s theological position, I argue that Akbarī ideas play a major role in forming his theological conclusions, especially those concerning divine speech (kalām).,The study consists of six chapters. Chapter 1 is dedicated to Fanārī’s biography and a discussion of his works. Here, closely examining all of the material written on him in both the primary and secondary literature, I try to paint an accurate portrait of the scholar. Chapter 2 contains a detailed description of Fanārī’s commentary, ‘Ayn al-a‘yān, which forms the backbone of my analysis. This chapter also discusses Fanārī’s contribution to the debates on the nature and the sources of Qur’anic exegesis as an Islamic discipline. Chapter 3 provides a detailed analysis of the famous Prophetic tradition (hadith) that describes the Qur’an as having four aspects. The evolution of the comments on this particular hadith through the centuries epitomizes, in a sense, the historical stages of Sufi Qur’anic exegesis. Chapter 4 deals with the theological traditions regarding the nature of Qur’anic revelation and attempts to contextualize Fanārī’s thinking in this respect. This chapter points to the theological roots of the differences between the Akbarīs and other traditions, in terms of their approach to the Qur’an and its exegesis. Chapter 5 examines the Sufi theory of multilayered Qur’anic meaning and how Fanārī perceives and expands on it. This chapter also focuses on Fanārī’s discussion of Tafsīr as an Islamic discipline. Chapter 6 discusses the outstanding characteristics of Fanārī’s practice of exegesis through examples from his ‘Ayn. In addition, a large portion of the Prologue (Muqaddima) of the ‘Ayn in Arabic, which contains the important parts of the text to which I frequently refer in this study, is appended at the end. I have constructed this edition from several manuscripts.

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