University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Beyond Form: Commentary and Commentary Tradition in Islam
The twentieth century was witness to an ocean of writing on Islam (Macdonald 1903; Watt 1962; Schacht 1964; Wensinck 1965) pierced by the thesis that rational inquiry suddenly died with the closing of the gates of ijtihād. Against this prevailing thesis, recent authors (Hallaq 1984; Wisnovsky 2004; El-Rouayheb 2006) have suggested that on the contrary, rational inquiry continued in the post-classical Islamic intellectual tradition through forms of commentary whose function was not the mere explication of ideas but the critical adjudication of issues. In this paper, I critically assess this thesis through a diachronic analysis of the history of one strain of commentary written on perhaps one of the most important post-classical texts in Islamic legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh), Ṣadr al-Sharīʿa al-Maḥbūbī’s (d. 1346) Ḥanafī work al-Tawḍīh fī ḥall ghawāmid al-tanqīḥ and its later glosses. I attempt to show that the form ‘commentary’ is neither conducive nor antithetical to rational deliberation, but rather should be understood as a vehicle for the commentator’s express purpose in writing the text. For this reason, it is difficult to subsume the form ‘commentary’ under a single motive, even as general as the explication of an issue. The condition for a successful commentary was, rather, compliance with the rules of disputational dialectics (munāzara) which became not simply the sine qua non for rational discourse but an entire culture of debate coloring almost all forms of writing and exchange in post-classical Islam. In this paper, I thus read the form ‘commentary’ as it relates to the Tawḍīḥ and its glosses with dialectics in mind, to show how authors used this form in variant ways depending on what they perceived to be the objective of the text. I begin the paper with an examination of the first gloss on the Tawḍīḥ by the famous Central Asian theologian Saʿd al-Dīn al-Taftāzānī (d. 1390), and end with one of the last commentaries on the work, by the Tatar Ḥanafī scholar Shihāb al-Dīn al-Marjānī (d. 1889).