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‘Ayn Al-A‘yān: The First Prominent Qur’anic Commentary in Ottoman History

Abstract

Muḥammad ibn Ḥamza Shams al-Dīn al-Fanārī (1350-1431) was one of the prominent early Ottoman scholars. After years of education in Anatolia and Egypt, he served as a mudarris and a judge in the Ottoman lands and was consequently promoted to the post of Shaykh al-Islām, the highest office in the Ottoman religious bureaucracy. ‘Ayn al-a‘yān, Fanārī's partial commentary on the opening chapter of the Qur’an, is an outstanding Tafsīr work, in which Fanārī presents his exegetical theory. In his theory, the Qur’anic text is assessed as having multi-layered meanings, including an esoteric sense, and as being open to endless attempts at interpretation. Fanārī connects the multiple layers of Qur’anic meaning with the hierarchical structure of existence theorised in Akbarī metaphysics. Since the text encodes the secrets of existence at the level of esoteric sense, the task of the commentator involves spiritual experience beyond intellectual inquiry. Therefore, in Fanārī’s commentary, the Qur’anic text functions as an epistemological medium that connects Akbarī ontology to spirituality. The appropriation of Akbarī hermeneutics led Fanārī to question the nature and the authority of Tafsīr and to re-define the Qur’an and exegesis of the Qur’an.

Keywords

Shams al-Dīn al-Fanārī, Akbarī hermeneutics, Ottoman Tafsīr tradition, Sufi ishārī tafsīr, Ibn al-‘Arabī

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