QURANIC HERMENEUTICS AND SUFISM : The Qur'an Commentary of Syeikh Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani (By Irwan Masduqi, Lc.)

The heritages of Quranic commentaries, lately, are enriched by the publication of Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani’s commentary (Jilani, Gilani, Gaylani) in early 2009. The Center of al-Jaylani Studies (Markaz al-Buhuts li al-Jaylani) at Istanbul, Turkey, claimed that the publication was the first throughout history. Its manuscript which consists of six volumes, with a thickness of about 550 pages for each volume, has been found by Muhammad Fadhil in Italy, Qadiriyya Library in Baghdad, and India. The editor of al-Jaylani’s commentary is Dr. Jaylani Mohammed Fadhil al-Hasani al-Jamazraqi al-Taylani from Jimzaraq, Eastern Turkey who was seeking and analyzing the books of al-Jaylani over twenty years ago as well as translating it into English and German language.

The Authenticity of al-Jaylani’s Commentary
The authenticity of al-Jaylani’s commentary is questionable and leads to polemic among renowned Moslem scholars. Al-Jaylani’s commentary, which entitles al-Fawâtih al-Ilahiyyah wa al-Mafâtih al-Ghaybiyyah al-Muwadhihah li al-Kalim al-Quraniyyah wa al-Hikam al-Furqâniyyah is still debated by the biographers of al-Jaylani. Dr. Joseph Zaidan, an expert in the field of Sufism manuscripts from Alexandria, informed that the Rashid library at Tripoli and India was collecting the book of Quranic exegesis claimed as the work of al-Jaylani. Based on his opinion, this work, however, is "pseudo" (al-manhul) for the authors of al-Jaylani’s Manaqib (the books of al-Jaylani biography) never signaled that al-Jaylani has a work in the field of Quranic exegesis. Joseph Zaidan, additionally underlined, al-Jaylani himself, in some of his works, never declared a work in the field of Quranic exegesis.

Joseph Zaidan’s conclusion is clarified by Khayr al-Din al-Zirkili, in al-Takmilah stating explicitly that al-Fawâtih al-Ilahiyyah wa al-Mafâtih al-Ghaybiyyah al-Muwadhihah li al-Kalim al-Quraniyyah wa al-Hikam al-Furqâniyyah is a work of Ni'matullah bin Mahmud al-Nakhjuwani (d. 920 AH) from Nakhichevan (Azeri language: Naxçıvan Muxtar), Azerbaijan. Al-Zirkili’s opinion is concomitant with the catalog of Biblioteca Alexandrina indicating that al-Jaylani’s commentary was written by al-Nakhjuwani. Catalog of Biblioteca Alexandrina informs that al-Jaylani’s commentary ever printed on 1907/1325 AH in Istanbul, Turkey, which contains II volumes, not VI volumes as version of Center of al-Jaylani Studies, Turkey.

Likewise, digital program of Maktabah Tsamilah includes this commentary written by al-Nakhjuwani as author and which is printed and published by Dar Rikabi, Cairo, Egypt, in 1999 in which the text of the Dar al-Rikabi version is the full version until al-Nas. The assumption that this commentary is the work of al-Nakhjuwani is not only confirmed by Shia sites or official sites of Thariqah Dasukiyyah-Syadziliyyah, but also the authoritative sources namely Mu'jam Mathbu'ah, Mu'jam Muallifin, Kash al-Dhunun, etc. As they said, al-Fawâtih al-Ilahiyyah was written by al-Nakhjuwani in 902 AH.

It is plain to see that the first opinion concludes that al-Jaylani’s commentary is the work of al-Nakhjuwani whereas the second opinion, represented by Dr. Abd al-Razaq al-Kaylani, states that the work of al-Jaylani is under the title al-Misk al-Khitâm which its commentary is available at Library of Tripoli and India (manuscript 622 AH). Conversely, the third version, an opinion of Center of al-Jaylani Studies at Istanbul, Turkey in which Mohammed Fadhil is the researcher at there, reveals that al-Jaylani’s commentary is the authentic work of Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani. An argument which is forwarded by Mohammed Fadhil, as editor of this commentary, is his visit to 50 libraries, including Vatican on which he then found three of manuscripts which give on information in the bottom corner; “This commentary had been completed from I until III volume by Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani”.

The editor doubted the authenticity of this commentary, since the manuscript gives an indication that al-Jaylani’s commentary had been written by other, not by al-Jaylani himself. The doubt, however, has soon disappeared; thereby, having information from Sayid Abd al-Muttalib al-Kaylani from Nuri al-Haj (the manager of Qadiriyah library at Baghdad), and the family of Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani at Watkiyya Islamic School and Sheikh Umar Rifa'i from Sayyid Yusuf (the owner of Mustafa al-Halbi library in Baghdad). These sources assert that there is Quranic exegesis book written by Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani" collected in Qadiriyah Library, Baghdad. Sadly, the commentary was missing till the manuscript had found again in the Sham and then lost at a second time. Sayid Nuri had strengthened the authenticity of al-Jaylani’s commentary through his statement, "One of the works of Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani, written with his hands, is al-Fawatih al-Ilahiyyah". Thus, the editor said, "This information reinforces our efforts to publish this commentary on behalf of Sheikh Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani".

Although the majority of scholars said that al-Fawatih is the work of al-Nakhjuwani, but this statement did not rule out the emergence of assumption that al-Jaylani’s commentary was written by al-Jaylani around the year 521 until 561 AH in Baghdad, then copied and duplicated by several writers, including al-Nakhjuwani died in 920 AH. The original manuscript, furthermore, was lost in Baghdad, as the information provided by the Library of Baghdad. The assumption that al-Nakhjuwani is just a copyist can be based on a discovery of Indian manuscript written in 622 AH in the name of Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani. This assumption arose in that al-Nakhjuwani at the end of each sections said, "Commentary of my master, Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani, had finished."

Moreover, al-Nakhjuwani is scholar mystic from Nakhichevan, Azerbaijan (the border of Turkey, Armenia and Iran). This commentary, therefore, has been very popular among the followers of Shia sect in Iran and Turkey and then be claimed as the work of al-Nakhjuwani by the first publisher in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1999. This assumption is worth to be considered and further investigated because the Tabaqat's al-Adnarawi gave information that the title of al-Nakhjuwani book's is Fawâtih al-Maqîsat, not Fawâtih al-Ilahiyah.

Biography of Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani
Orthodox Islamic scholars in scholastic period had left some valuable legacies of intellectual works explaining about the biography of Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani for instance, Buhjah al-Asrar wa Ma’dan al-Anwar by Syathnufi, Qalaid al-Jawahir fi Manaqib al-Syaikh ‘Abd al-Qadir by al-Tadifi, Syamsy al-Mafakhir by Muhammad bin Muhammad al-Bahsyi al-Halbi, Khulashah al-Mafakhir fi Ikhtishar Manaqib al-Syaikh Abd al-Qadir by Abu As’ad al-Yafi’i, etc. Yet, unfortunately, in general, these works were written on the basis of myths in Sufi circles, such as the myth that al-Jaylani can revive a dead chicken. In my opinion, the irrational myth like this should be avoided.

In the perspective of applicative anthropology, however, myth is not always negative. Myth sometimes has a positive function for transforming the society towards better. One example in relation to the myths of al-Jaylani is the story that he has the strength for wringing dirham or gold money (a prize from the corrupt government) until shattering. However, from the perspective of applicative anthropology, the mythic narrative cannot be taken for granted. Anthropology is not applicable for investigation whether the myth is true or false. Anthropology applicative emphasizes that these myths have a positive function for shaping an anti-corruption society.

Let us ignore the negative myths and then refer to the empirical data in the review of a biography. Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani was born on the year 470 AH/1077 AD in Jilan, Iran, and died on 561 AH in the Bab al-Azaj, Baghdad. Periods of al-Jaylani’s life can be divided into three periods: the first is al-Jaylani childhood in Kaylan, a region whose inhabitants faithfully follow the Shafi'i and Hanbali school of thought. This period is counted from 470 AH for his intellectual expedition to Baghdad in 488 AH.

The second period starts from 488 AH until 521 AH on which al-Jaylani studied hadith from Abu Ghalib Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Baqilani, Abu Bakr Ahmad bin Madzhar, Qasim Ali ibn Abu Bayan al-Razi, Abu Talib bin Yusuf, and others. Al-Jaylani was also a student of Abu al-Wafa Ali Ibn Aqil al-Hanbali and Abu al-Khithab Mahfudh bin Ahmad al-Kalwadzani al-Hanbali in the field of fiqh. In the discipline of literature, he studied from Abu Zakariya Yahya al-Tibrizi. His spiritual masters included Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Ahmad Siraj and Sheikh Hamad ibn Muslim al-Dibas, as well as Qadi Abi Said al-Mubarak bin Ali al-Mukharrami. Meanwhile, those who taught al-Jaylani in the discipline of Quranic exegesis were Wafa Ali bin Abi Aqil, Abu al-al-Kalwadzani Khithab Mahfudh, Abu al-Ghanaim, Abd al-Rahman ibn Ahmad ibn Yusuf Abu al-Barakat al-Mubarak Hibatullah, and others; all of whom may would influence his exegesis. According to some biographers, the sciences that interest al-Jaylani enormously are Islamic law of Syafi'i and Hanbali school of thought. Having mastered the fiqh, al-Jaylani then completed it with mysticism.

In the third period, al-Jaylani played a role as a sufi master since replacing his teacher, al-Mukharrami, who died on 521 AH. Subsequent to this period, al-Jaylani was busy in teaching activities and writing several works. Well, it can be estimated that the al-Jaylani's commentary was written in this period, just about between 521 AH until 561 AH.

Al-Jaylani lived in social condition which experiences a multi-dimensional crisis. In the political arena, al-Jaylani had seen the theocratic system and government who did not hesitate to meet the ambitions for politicizing religion. It seemed that the government played an arbitrary role. In fact, when arriving in Baghdad for the first time, incisively in 488 AH, al-Jaylani had seen despotism of Abd al-Malik, minister of Caliph al-Mustadzhir, who was ratifying the places sinners. At the same time, al-Jaylani felt sad deeply; therefore, he realized that religion is a source of cultural value that is potentially hijacked by certain groups in order to legitimize bad interests.

In the religious sphere, al-Jaylani lived in the midst of the people who lost their spirit dimensions of religiosity. Religion was plainly a formality without a soul of which many elements of the community hear the speech and religious sermons at mosques, but ironically, after their ritual activities, they return to corruption and peculation. Even though ritual prayer is implemented, it still cannot protect the public from corruption. Similarly, fasting is also performed, but it can be unable to cultivate a sense of solidarity and social sensitivity.

Simultaneously, there are not few clerics who lost their charisma in the eyes of people, so their religious discourses are merely a slight different with a farce of Abu Nawas. This condition is called by the biographers of al-Jaylani as the main factor of the deep disappointment felt by al-Jaylani. On the contrary, socio-cultural conditions have become a motivation for him to build a vision and mission of dakwah oriented to a better future morally. In these socio-cultural conditions, al-Jaylani wrote a commentary of al-Quran which is projected to reorganize his society. As a consequence, by understanding the socio-cultural background of emergence of al-Jaylani's commentary, we can conclude that the al-Jaylani's commentary was written for the purposes of social critique.

Epistemology of al-Jaylani’s Commentary
The al-Jaylani’s commentary applies an esoteric approach to interpret the verses of Quran which combines an inner feeling (dzauq) and an intuition (kashf). Al-Jaylani said, “Let us understand al-Quran with our hearts, contemplation, and knowledge from God (mukasyafah) rather than solely using rational view and estimation”. Based on the sufi approach, the al-Jaylani’s commentary to be named Al-Fawatih al-Ilahiyyah wa al-Mafatih al-Ghaybiyyah al-Muwadhihah li al-Kalim al-Quraniyyah wa al-Hikam al-Furqaniyyah (the Keys of Divine and Locks of Invisibility Explaining the Verses of Quran and the Difference between Right and Wrong), a book that describes a dimension of spirituality esoterically (bathin). This dimension then integrated with an exoteric dimension (dhahir) which is reflected by a statement in al-Fatihah interpretation,

"O followers of the religion of Mohammed, should you contemplate the seven seas are included in al-Sab’ al-Matsani. This contemplation is not easy unless your body has cleaned with Shari'a which is understood from Quranic verses, as well as your soul has cleaned with the ethics".

In consonance with al-Jaylani, body and soul should be clean equally. It appears that the harmonious combination between the esoteric and exoteric dimensions is paralleled by a combination of Shari'a and haqiqat. This combination would emphasize that the scholars mystic should still cling to the rule of Islamic law. This is constructive critique addressed to the sufis that many a time arbitrarily dismiss Islamic law and justify all things under the guise of Sufism. Al-Jaylani's critique is relevant to overcome the phenomenon of the emergence of new sects are rife in Indonesia as well, where its founders admitted getting mystical inspiration from God, but ironically, they violate the fundamental principles of Islamic law concurrently. In contrast, the combination between the esoteric and exoteric dimensions is also a critique for the scripturalists and fundamentalists who always understand the Shari'a with the rigid perspective and trapped on the skin of Shari'a without diving into the core of the Shari'a.

The combination between esoteric and exoteric dimensions is a necessity because the Quran, in al-Jaylani's opinion, has many horizons of meaning. Al-Quran, according to him, like a sea of ocean where there is a variety of diamond jewelry; a metaphorical expression which suggests that al-Quran, as the text, can be interpreted variously (multi-interpretive). There are commentators who only can understand the literal meaning of verses, such as jurists as well as commentators who can dive into the inner of a substantial meaning, like sufi interpreters.

Nonetheless, Sufi interpreters are also in the difference interpretations, because there are variances in the levels obtained through the intuitions from God. This reveals a relativism that cannot be denied and, therefore, God said, “Walladzîna jâhadû fînâ lanahdiyannahum subulanâ” (And people who are serious about taking my path, then I will show you various ways for them). The word "subul" is the plural form of “sabil”. This exposes a “path diversity” (subul) toward God; God roads through the exoteric interpretation of Shari'a, as well as through the esoteric interpretation of Sufism. Seeing this diversity, the al-Jaylani's commentary combines both in order to create the balance between skin and core aspects of Shari'a.

The spirit of relativism in al-Jaylani's commentary is a positive value that we should be implemented to realize a tolerance and harmony in the world. According to al-Jaylani, understanding about diversity is a necessary. Even though Islam is one, the understanding about Islam is very diverse. As a result, it would be nice if the diversity can be respected and combined, such as the combination between esoteric and exoteric dimensions. Texts of al-Quran are multi interpretation; therefore, Muslims must respect each other and avoid the violence. This spirit is also going to suggest that it is not fair if there are some circles who claimed that they have own truth claims and other opinions are false, because “diversity of interpretation is the roads (subul) to God”, said al-Jaylani.

But then again, unfortunately, there is still a paradox within the conceptual framework of al-Jaylani's sufism where he is trapped in an exclusivism. The exclusivism is reflected by his antipathy attitude toward the rational philosophy and theology. If at first al-Jaylani has looked as very pluralistic scholar in multi-interpretive ideas, then at another point, he even claims that the sufis are the owners of a truth authority. According to him, the mutasyabihat verses only can be understood by Sufis, not by philosophers and theologians. The Sufis are al-Rasikhun, the owners of laduni science, having been supported by the intuition of God. This is a side of al-Jaylani's subjectivity that should be avoided.

Now we come to the discussion about definition of the Quran. According to al-Jaylani, al-Quran is “a morality of God revealed to His Prophet”. This definition was constructed by hadith “Takhallaqu bi akhlaqillah” (let us to emulate the morality of God). Al-Jaylani states, if there is a person has a morality of God, then he will go to heaven. This definition is clarified by “conception of text” of al-Jaylani that illustrates the trend of Sunni theology. When interpreted “Dzalika al-Kitabu la Rayba fihi”, al-Jaylani said, “There is no doubt about al-Quran that sent from God, in its text or meaning. In the aspect of text, due to its miracle, it cannot be compared by poetry in the field of Balaghah. In the aspect of meaning, owing to its information, it includes all the secrets of the unseen which cannot be seen except by Prophet and Sufis”.

Al-Jaylani's sect inclination is closer to the Sunni doctrine, especially in the concept that the Quran is both the text and its meaning. Nevertheless, theological views about the Quran are wrapped by sufism views, as reflected in the statement of al-Jaylani above. The Sunni inclination can also be traced in some of his works that contain the critique toward followers of anthropomorphism (mujassimah) and Mu'tazilite. Then, in the reading version, al-Jaylani goes along with Hafs version, while in the Islamic law al-Jaylani adheres to Hanbali and Syafi'i school of thought. Besides that, Asbab al-Nuzul is also be concerned by al-Jaylani. Unfortunately, the attention of al-Jaylani against Asbab al-Nuzul, however, is very minimal.

Wallahu a’lam bi al-shawab

Published by Philosophia Holistica, International Journal of Islamic Philosophy.



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