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Inscribing Persian in the Arabic Cosmopolis: Case Study of Qur’ānic Exegesis from Khorasan

Abstract

Scholarly discourse on the Persianate tends to focus on the influence of Persian in Iran and further east, and often occludes the way in which the Persian language is inflected and present in the Arabic cosmopolis further west. Similarly, the formation of ‘Islamic classics’ and scholarly genres including exegesis tends to ignore the role of Persian works (and texts produced in a Persianate context). Through a case study of Qur’ānic exegesis in Persian and its reception west of Iran, we demonstrate how Persian is inscribed into the Arabic cosmopolis such that the development of post-classical exegesis should place these works alongside the major Arabic classics of al-Ṭabarī, al-Thaʿlabī and al-Basīṭ; in effect, we contend the study of Qur’ānic exegesis cannot ignore the study of Persian exegesis. Through examining rare manuscripts, we show how scholars read, copied and promoted Persian tafsir in Arabophone contexts. Not only does this study follow up on and test some earlier scholarly works dealing with the circulation of Persian translations of the Qur’ān and its commentaries as well as the scholarly impact of the Persians further west, it indicates the contribution of Persian exegesis to a normative understanding of the Islamic exegetical traditions at the heart of the madrasa. 

Keywords

Persianate tafsir, Arabic cosmopolis, Khorasan, Levant, Nisapur

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