A Primer on a Shi’ite system for the mystical exegesis of the Qur’an by means of the Seven Great Letters as espoused by Abû Ya’qûb al-Sijistânî in his Kitâb al-Iftikhâr
A primer on a Shi'te scheme for the Seven Greatest Letters of the Arabic alphabet - a system for the mystical interpretation of the Qur'an. More
This primer supplies a scholarly introductory insight into the system for the mystical exegesis of the Qur’an described in the Kitâb al-Iftikhâr (‘Book of the Boast’) by the prominent Fatimid da’i al-Sijistânî, with a particular focus on its unique rationalist-gnostic model for the interpretation of the Arabic letters. The famous author of the Kitâb privileges seven Arabic letters as being of profound importance to the understanding of the Qur'an, and maintains that it is only via knowledge of these letters and what they represent that the Qur'an might be "disallegorised". The treatment given to these letters is more thorough and integrated than any part of the same author's Kitâb al-Yanabi. This primer examines the structure of the Kitâb, derives from it the relevant content of interest, and analyses its implications for the system of mystical exegesis for the Qur'an advocated by this Shi'ite sect.
Review by Professor Branca Paolo Luigi (Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore):
"A widespread and deep-rooted prejudice considers Islam alien, or even hostile, to philosophical speculation. That is surely a wrong perception depending on quite recent involution and excesses of politico-religious movements.
However, during the Middle Ages, the Arab masters’ inclination towards rationality was very well-known to all, to such a point that in many diatribes, in which the Jew and the Christian held disputations, the figure of the Muslim appeared as the “philosopher par excellence”. This ebook “A Primer on a Shi'ite system for the mystical exegesis of the Qur'an by means of the Seven Great Letters as espoused by Abû Ya'qûb al-Sijistânî in his Kitâb al-Iftikhâr”, dedicated to one of the most distinguished personalities of the Ismaili thought in the Fatimid Caliphate age, largely confirms how deeply the Platonic and gnostic inheritance has been not only kept alive, but developed and spread further on. This diffusion took place particularly within the powerful and branched system of thought that started from the Shi’a and expanded in many currents full of an extraordinary intellectual richness, even moreso when comparing it with the Sunni Islam which remained tied to a juridico-institutional setting, more limited and cautious regarding creative hermeneutic approaches, fearful of leaving the path of tradition and much more worried of the potential divisions in the Islamic world rather than the dangers threatening it from outside". Paolo Branca
- Paolo Branca, associate professor of Islamic studies and Arab Language and Literature at the Catholic University in Milan
- Member of the Expert Committee of Italia-Asia Cultural Centre in Milan.