Al-Kashshāf: Al-Zamakhsharī’s Mu’tazilite Exegesis of the Qur’an

  • Book Title:
 Al Kashshaf Al Zamakhsharis Mutazilite Exegesis Of The Quran
  • Book Author:
Kifayat Ullah
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Introduction – AL-KASHSHAF

Abū al-Qāsim Maḥmūdb.‘Umar al-Zamakhsharī is one of the last widelyknown and outstanding Ḥanafī Muʻtazilite scholars who made important contributions in the fields of Qur’ānic exegesis, traditions, theology, jurisprudence, grammar, lexicographyand literature. Muʻtazilism continued to thrive in Khwārazm, at least until the second half of the eighth/fourteenth century,while in the rest of the Muslim world it had alreadydeclined.¹

Al-Zamakhsharī was born in 467/1075 at Zamakhshar in Khwārazm, and died in 538/1144 inJurjāniyya, wherehewas buried. Al-Zamakhsharī travelled for pur-poses of education and visited Mecca twice and stayedtherefor aperiod of ap-proximatelytwelve years. His first visit took place sometime between 500/1106 and 518/1124,and his second visit was in 526/1131 when he stayed for seven years, hence he was giventhe honorific title of JārAllāh (Neighbor of God).

The biographical dictionaries mention that al-Zamakhsharī acquired his education from approximately eleven scholars, and studied exegesis, traditions, theology, jurisprudence, grammar, lexicography, and literature. These sources also identify about twenty-six of his students. In most of the cases they mention what students studied with or transmitted from al-Zamakhsharī, but in some cases information regarding their fields of study is not available. His command over Arabic was superb, and unparalleled. He was an outstanding scholar of his time who excelled in many sciences. He composed approximately fifty works during his lifetime.

In the year 512/1118 al-Zamakhsharī suffered a serious illness (nāhika)and warning (mundhira).² He made a covenant with God that if he were cured from the illness he would lead the life of guidance (al-hudā), desist from the de-sires (al-hawā)and devote his lifetime in pursuit of the readings of the Qurʼān, the tradition and jurisprudence.³

Primarily, al-Zamakhsharī’s fame rests upon the Qur’ān commentary of al-Kashshāf ‘an ḥaqā’iq al-tanzīlwa‘uyūnal-ghawāmiḍ fī wujūhal-ta’wīl,which he began to write upon his arrival in Mecca in 526/1132, and completed in 528/1134.Al-Zamakhsharī’scommentary containsa quintessence of Muʻtazilite doctrine which was adopted from the earlier Muʻtazilite exegetes; however, fre-quently he presented his own views. He mentions the views of both the schools

– Baṣra and Baghdād, but does not associate himself to anyone of them. He was familiar with the Muʻtazilite theology of Qāḍī ʻAbdal-Jabbār(d. 415/1025)and also studied the doctrineofAbū al-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī (d. 436/1044) which is evi-dent in his Muʻtazilite creed al-Minhājfīuṣūlal-dīn.⁴

Wilferd Madelung describes that, “Forthe Muʻtazilites, al-Kashshāf repre-sents the peak of intellectual achievement in Qur’ān commentary.”⁵ According to Andrew Rippin, “The distinctiveness of al-Zamakhsharī’sQur’ān commentary lies in his Muʻtazilī theological leanings…The Muʻtazilī doctrines of the unity and justiceofGod and the consequent ideas of the human free will and the need to dean thropomorphize the Qur’ān become the prime themes of the distinctive pas-sages of interpretation.”⁶

Since its inception, al-Kashshāf has been subject to bothexplication and or-thodoxSunnī criticism which centered on the basic principles of the Muʻtazilite theology. Those who have denounced and criticized al-Kashshāf include leading scholars of Sunnī orthodoxy. Yet, at the same time, al-Zamakhsharī’s tafsīr was cited, adopted, and commented upon by the orthodox community and there are an almost endless number of glosses, superglosses,and supercommentaries on it.The work by al-Bayḍāwī (d. ca 685/1286), Anwāral-tanzīlwa-asrāral-ta’wīl is the most famous attempt to distill the essence of al-Zamakhsharī’swork while attemptingtoomitthose views considered reprehensible to Sunnī orthodoxy.Ibn al-Munayyir (d. 683/1284) in his Kitābal-Intiṣāfmin al-Kashshāf refuted al-Za-makhsharī’sMuʻtazilite interpretations. Fakhral-Dīnal-Rāzī (d. 606/1209) in his Tafsīral-kabīr,AbūḤayyānal-Andalusī (d. 745/1344) in his Baḥral-muḥīṭ, IbnKhaldūn(d. 808/1406) in his Muqaddima and Jalāl al-Dīnal-Suyūṭī (d. 911/1505) all criticized al-Zamakhsharī’sMuʻtazilite views.⁷

Modern scholarship on al-Zamakhsharī is divided on the extent to which his tafsīr expresses Muʻtazilite doctrine and approach. One studybyLupti Ibrahim compares the significance of al-Zamakhsharī and al-Bayḍāwī in Muslim theology and examines theirworks al-Kashshāf and Anwāral-tanzīl which represent the views of the Muʻtazilites and the Ashʻarites respectively. His studyconcludes that al-Zamakhsharī as aMuʻtazilite givespriority to reason over revelation, whereas, al-Bayḍāwī as an Ashʻarite maintains that revelation has priority over reason.”⁸

Another studywritten by Fazlur Rahman, within the framework of the Muʻ-tazilites’ five principles, examines al-Zamakhsharī’svarious techniques to sub-stantiate his Muʻtazilite views, such as rationalorientation, variant readings of the Qur’ān, support from the Prophetic traditions, usageofsimilitudesand para-bles, extensionofcertain words’ meaningsand syntacticalmethods. He con-cludes thatal-Zamakhsharī’sunshakable conviction in the Muʻtazilite theology is reflected in his tafsīr of al-Kashshāf.⁹

Michael Schub states that according to Henri Fleisch, al-Zamakhsharī’s concise grammatical magnum opus al-Mufaṣṣal deals with almost all of the topics included in Sibawayh’s Kitāb.¹⁰ Schub’s main thesis is that al-Zamakhsharī significantly and extensively treats these topics covered in al-Mufaṣṣal in his com-mentary of al-Kashshāf. Al-Zamakhsharī is an excellent linguist who examines the Qur’ānic text in the light of relevant context and he evaluates various possi-ble readings, orattempts a diachronic explanation. He is an innovative and crit-ical analyst of textual material and does not hesitate to break with the accepted grammatical wisdom of his time. He concludes that al-Zamakhsharī provides many extra-linguistic bits of information which are potentiallyvery illuminating. He is especially insightful in analyzing the syntactic problems.Although al-Za-makhsharī tends to look at verses of the Qur’ān bearing on theological issues through the Muʻtazilite perspective, his view of those verses containing grammatical problems is, generally speaking, scientific in that it is unbiased as to mean-ing.¹¹

Andrew Lane argues in his study that “while al-Zamakhsharī may be well known for his ‘Muʻtazilite’ commentary on the Qurʼān, exegesis in general and Muʻtazilism in particular are hardly representative of his literary output… al-Za-makhsharī was neither a theologian nor even areligious scholar in the more limited sense of the word.”¹²

My book is divided into two parts. The first part,which consists of three chapters, deals with al-Zamakhsharī’s biography, al-Kashshāf, and al-Zamakh-sharī’s methodology of tafsīr. The first chapter is devoted to the biography of al-Zamakhsharī, which provides information about his early life, education, teachers from whom he receivedhis education and the fields of studies, his stu-dents, the works composed by him, his travels and visits to Mecca, and his intel-lectual crisis.

The second chapter deals with the transmission of al-Kashshāf after its com-pletion, and its manuscripts. According to Abū IsḥāqIbrāhīmb.Muḥammadb. ‘Ῑsāb. Muṭayral-Yamanī,Abūal-Maʻālī Yaḥyā b. ‘Abdal-Raḥmānb.‘Alī al-Shay-bānī,a qāḍī in Mecca, transmitted al-Kashshāf from al-Zamakhsharī to his neph-ew Abū al-Maʻālī Mājid b. Sulaymāī (d. 655/1257), who then transmit-ted it to others.¹³

The earliest manuscript was copied only four years after al-Zamakhsharī’s death and fourteen years after he had finished the commentary in Mecca. Al-Fih-ris al-shāmil mentions 843manuscripts, out of which 443bear the date or century in which they were copied and they are available in various libraries and mu-seums of the world.¹⁴ Out of 443dated manuscripts, Lane has analyzed250 manuscripts most of which are in Istanbul.Noother book in the history of tafsīr has been commented upon in the forms of sharḥs, ḥāshiyas, and mukhta-ṣars more than al-Kashshāf. Hājjī Khalīfa (d. 1067/1657) in his Kashfal-ẓūnūn lists approximately fifty commentaries.¹⁵ Al-Fihris al-shāmil mentions seventy-three sharḥs, ḥāshiyas, and mukhtaṣars.¹⁶ According to Lane, more than eighty schol-ars have written sharḥs, ḥāshiyas, and mukhtaṣars. Some of these commentaries have been written by well-known scholars, while other scholars are known by the names on the manuscripts of the sharḥs, ḥāshiyas, and mukhtaṣars that have survived, although some works on the Kashshāf bear no name at all. The issue of khalqal-Qurʼān and scholars’ opinions about al-Kashshāf are also dis-cussed.

The third chapter describes al-Zamakhsharī’s methodology of tafsīr. Despite the fact that his tafsīr follows the text of the Qurʼān from the beginning to the

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