Monday, June 12, 2023

al-Ḥillī's The Way of Nobility and Polemics in Islamic Theologies

 The second volume in the series The Collected Writings of al-ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī published by al-Mahdī Institute Press has just been released. I discuss the first volume, Clearing the Soul and the broader context here

The Way of Nobility (Minhāj al-karāma) is perhaps one of the most famous controversial and polemical texts of the post-Mongol period, inviting a rather excessive response from the famous Sunni Damascene polemicist Ibn Taymīya (d. 1328) entitled Minhāj al-sunna al-nabawīya (an English translation of an abridgement is here). Ibn Taymīya's text is much longer and although it follows the original it is refuting, it meandering and digresses and tends to conflate Shiʿi positions (Twelver, Ismaili, and so forth). al-Ḥillī's text is a relatively concise case for the imamate of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib based on scriptural sources and some elements of rational argument. 

The text is dedicated to the Mongol ruler of Iran, Öljeitü (r. 1304–1306) probably in 1311. Tariq al-Jamil discusses the text in the context of the polemic with Ibn Taymīya that followed (Minhāj al-sunna is commonly thought to have been penned in 1317). One could also read the text alongside al-Ḥillī's al-Alfayn and Nahj al-ḥaqq wa-kashf al-ṣidq which was also written at court for Öljeitü. This latter text initiated a cycle of polemics, the most recent of which is Dalāʾil al-ṣidq by Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥasan al-Muẓaffar (1883–1955) in 8 volumes. These texts are somewhat different - al-Alfayn is primarily scriptural but contains elements of logical reasoning. Nahj is more extensive and includes important corollaries on the nature of God - and provides more of the template for later Shiʿi polemics (one thinks of al-Ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm of Ibn Yūnus al-Bayyāḍī al-ʿĀmilī in the 15th century). 

The text is divided into six chapters: the first on the various positions taken on the imamate and succession to the prophet (including the important corollary issue of divine justice and provision of facilitating grace - luṭf - that is so central to his theology), the second on the broad case for the Twelver Shiʿi position, the third is divided into four parts on the Shiʿi cased including rational and scriptural evidence, the fourth on the concomitance of the imamate of ʿAlī's successors, the fifth on their who do not qualify as leaders in lieu of the prophet, with  final sixth on why Abū Bakr did not qualify as the successor. The case is therefore both positive and negative (why X was not), and comprising rational and scriptural proofs and consideration of evidence. 

The Arabic text used is the edition published in 1999 by Muʾassasat ʿĀshūrāʾ in Qum and edited by ʿAbd al-Raḥīm Mubārak based on three manuscripts from the Āstān-e quds-e rażavī library in Mashhad (MS 13754), and from the library of Āyatullāh Marʿashī Najafī in Qum (MS 29 and 2523). All of these are Safavid but the aim of the series is not necessarily to produce new critical editions.  According to the Fankhā Union catalogue of manuscripts in Iran, there are 175 copies of the text but none reliably dated to before the Safavid period. The text is introduced and translated by Saiyad Nizamuddin Ahmad, who holds the Prophet Muhammad Chair of Shia Islamic Studies at Florida International University.

It is worth contextualising this polemic and its response in the following cycles:
1) The first was al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 255/869) and his al-Risāla al-ʿUthmānīya followed by a non-extant refutation by al-Ḥasan b. Mūsā al-Nawbakhtī (d. c. 310/922) a full refutation by Sayyid Jamāl al-Dīn Ibn Ṭāwūs (d. 673/1274) entitled Bināʾ al-maqāla al-Fāṭimīya

2) The second is this text by al-Ḥillī and its refutation by Ibn Taymīya which remains the most well-known.

3) The third of al-Ḥillī's Nahj al-ḥaqq mentioned which led to a response by the litterateur and historian Faḍlallāh b. Ruzbihān al-Khunajī (d. 927/1521) to which there is the famous response of Sayyid Nūrullāh Shūshtarī (exe. 1610), Iḥqāq al-ḥaqq, published with apparatus and extensive, voluminous notes by Āyatullāh Sayyid Shihāb al-Dīn Marʿashī Najafī. I have written on it. Here is a shot of the opening of one of the British Library copies of Khunajī's Ibṭāl nah al-bāṭil:

4) The fourth is relatively well-known but also came out of the school of al-Ḥilla, namely al-Risāla al-muʿāriḍa of Yūsuf b. Makhzūm al-Aʿwar al-Wāsiṭī and its refutation by Najm al-Dīn Khiḍr al-Ḥabalrūdī and his al-Tawāḍīḥ al-anwār bi-ḥujaj al-wārida li-dafʿ shubhat al-Aʿwar completed in 839/1435. Here is a shot from the British Library MS of the text:

There are of course many others in Arabic on the imamate (in the contemporary period there are far too many which then circulate in English, Urdu and other translations) - and many more in Persian and other languages (perhaps the most famous in Persian being Tuḥfa-ye isnāʿasharīya of the Delhi scholar Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz [d. 1823] and its responses by Mīrzā Kāmil Dihlavī [d. 1810], Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī [d. 1820] and his sons in Lucknow, and of course ʿAbaqāt al-anwār of Sayyid Ḥāmid Ḥusayn Mūsavī Kintūrī [d. 1888]). 

There is little doubt that al-Ḥillī's text and the response by Ibn Taymīya remain at the heart of modern polemics. Hence the importance of having this dual text available. I hope that AMI press will also take on Nahj al-ḥaqq and al-Alfayn in the future as they are with Kashf al-murād which is al-Ḥillī's most important exposition on theology.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Maximalist Imamology - a new term for an older phenomenon

 Much ink has been spilled in the modern period in Shiʿi circles and beyond about the true nature of the Imām and his cosmic role - this debate is often around what since the late 19th century has been called walāya takwīnīya or the authority and control of the Imām over the cosmos and the objects within it. I am not particularly interested in the more normative question but what seems clear to me is that within Imāmology there has always been historically somewhat of a spectrum. Hence I have used the term 'maximalist imamology' to describe a conception of 'divine humanity' that still locates itself within the Twelver Shiʿi tradition without falling into the (contested) category of exaggeration or ghulūw and hence into Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī or other conceptions of the Imām. 

'Maximalist Imamology' therefore renders this notion that the Imam has complete authority of the cosmos as the true mediating heir of the Prophet. Increasingly, as we begin to engage with Avicenna's prophetology we realise that the philosophical defence of a perfect mediating human whose very existence not only ensures the correct social, ethical and political order of the cosmos but also entails the metaphysical order of reality can easily be extended into Imamology. In the Twelver ḥadīth corpus, this is through the narrations on the Imāms as the divine names and as those who manifest the divine names and divine attributes. Maximalist Imamology takes up this theme and then develops a number of positions on the origins of the cosmos, its sustenance and its unfolding eschatology and soteriology. 

Therefore Maximalist Imāmology constitutes a series of historically articulated and developed positions on the prehistory, history, and coming messianic moment of the Imām. The first of these includes the idea of the Imam in the world of spirits and motes (ʿālam al-arwāḥ, ʿālam al-dharr), and the third of these includes the role of the Imām in the apocalyptic return (al-rajʿa, al-karra) and the eschaton. 

To this end, I have now written three articles on the historical development of this Maximalist Imamology:

1) ‘Seeking the Face of God: The Safawid Ḥikmat Tradition’s conceptualisation of walāya takwīnīya’, in Gurdofarid Mizkinzoda, M.A. Amir-Moezzi and Farhad Daftary (eds), The Study of Shiʿi Islam, London: I.B. Tauris in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2013, pp. 391–410 [Maximalist Imamology I] This first piece dealt with an aspect of the Safavid manifestation. 

2) ‘Shiʿi Political Theology and Esotericism in Qajar Iran: The case of Sayyid Jaʿfar Kashfī’, in Mohammed Ali Amir-Moezzi et al (eds), Esotérisme shiʿite: ses racines et set prolongements, Louvain: Peeters/EPHE, 2016, pp. 687–712 [Maximalist Imamology II] This turned to one significant Qajar development - there is much more to say on the Qajar context as it became a major issue of discussion by philosophers (of the school of Mullā Ṣadrā, the school of Ibn ʿArabī as well as among the Shaykhīya) as well as Sufis. 

3) ‘Esoteric Shiʿi Islam in the Later School of al-Ḥilla: Walāya and Apocalypticism in al-Ḥasan b. Sulaymān al-Ḥillī (d. after 1400) and Rajab al-Bursī (d. c. 1411)’, in Edmund Hayes and Rodrigo Adem (eds), Reason, Esotericism, and the Construction of Authority, Leiden: Brill, 2021, pp. 190–241 [Maximalist Imamology III - this work]

Soon to come are two further articles. One looks at the issue of divine simplicity and its philosophical defence in Shiʿi philosophical theology and how it engages with a theology of the divine names to explains how the transcendent intervenes in the cosmos and how the immanent pervades it. The fifth in the series that will follow soon after will examine another episode of the exposition of Maximalist Imamology on the cusp of the Safavid period by examining the devotional literature especially of Taqī al-Dīn al-Kafʿamī. 

While I don't think I will manage a full history of the idea of Maximalist Imāmology, I hope that these articles will put forward a certain account within Islamic intellectual history. The influence of Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi's work and his early articles on divine humanity in the Shiʿi context should be clear. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Imāmī Theology: The Contribution of Ibn Muṭahhar al-Ḥillī (d. 726/1325) and a New Series of Publications

 The main intention of this blogpost is to say something about the Al-Mahdi Institute Press' new series of editions and translations of the works of the major Imāmī theologian al-ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī. The translation of Taslīk al-nafs ilā ḥaẓirat al-quds - rendered as Clearing the Soul for Paradise - is the first of this series. And I should declare an interest as someone who has been consulted on the series and the whole production and its academic content. 

But before saying something about this publication, it would be useful to locate it within a broader history of the development of Imāmī theological traditions from the classical period to the current age. 

We still have a long way to go in filling out an intellectual history of the course of theological traditions and especially philosophical theology in the Imāmī tradition. A sketch of a periodisation of rational (and increasingly systematic) theology known as ʿilm al-kalām among the Twelver Shiʿa might go something like this:

1) The period of the companions of the later Imāms, the mix of traditionalisms as well as the encounter with other traditions (aṣḥāb al-maqālāt, al-milal) and faiths on the ground of rational debate that was increasing - for which the translation of Aristotle's organon into Arabic was critically important. The key point about this period is the absence of fixed terminologies and technical discussions but the emergence of different modes of 'rationality' or intellectual inquiry, and not a simplistic opposition of 'traditionalism' and 'rationalism' - even the texts from the early generations such as al-Mufaḍḍal b. ʿUmar al-Juʿfī (d. c. 183/799), Hishām b. al-Ḥakam (d. 179/795), through to al-Faḍl b. Shādhān (d. 260/874) as well as the texts attributed to the Imām themselves (as in this study of Abrahamov). They are known for their views on creation and cosmology as a foundational metaphysics, determinism and human free will, the nature of prophecy and the imamate, and other issues - although most of their texts have not survived outside of doxographies and heresiographies like the works of hostile reporters like al-Intiṣār of al-Khayyāt (d. c. 300/913) and Maqālāt al-islāmīyīn of Abūʾl-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī (d. 324/936). 


2) The immediate period after the onset of the occultation of the Twelfth Imam and the Shiʿi moment under the Buyids that brought the Imāmī tradition even more into dialogue with the Muʿtazilī tradition. This is the period from the 'traditionalist' influenced by Muʿtazilī categories and responding to their themes, Ibn Bābawayh al-Qummī known as al-Shaykh al-Ṣadūq (d. 381/991) followed by his students and the first generation of serious Imāmī Muʿtazilī thinkers, al-Shaykh al-Mufīd (d. 413/1022) and his students al-Sharīf al-Raḍī (d. 406/1015) and al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā (d. 436/1044) - the former was more closely aligned with the Baghdādī Muʿtazila since he had studied with ʿAlī b. ʿĪsā al-Rummānī, the main figure of the Ikshīdī branch of the Baghdādīs and engaged with the thought of Abūʾl-Qāsim al-Kaʿbī (d. 319/931), and al-Murtaḍā was more in line with the Basran Muʿtazila. The latter engaged with the school of Abū Hāshim al-Jubbāʾī (d. 321/933) and entered into polemics with the prominent Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār al-Hamadānī (d. 415/1024). Al-Mufīd had also studied with the first major Muʿtazilī Imāmī thinker Abū Sahl al-Nawbakhtī (d. 311/924) whose lost Kitāb al-ārāʾ waʾl-diyānāt also demonstrated knowledge of Aristotelian science and philosophy. The classic studies here are the following studies of McDermott and Abdulsater:

This MA is also important:

And the locus classicus of the development from al-Ṣadūq to al-Mufīd is the famous 'correction' by the later of his teacher's creed:

This period is marked by the 'rational', Muʿtazilī turn as well as the development of an Imāmī rationalism as well as finding space for arguments that are scripturally based especially pertaining to the main doctrine of the imamate. One also finds in that rationalist spectrum the importance of intra-Shiʿi disputation with the Zaydīs and the Ismailis.

3) This is followed by that first classical period from al-Shaykh al-Ṭūsī (d. 460/1067) to Sālār al-Daylamī (d. 448/1057) who wrote a work on atoms and cosmology through Sadīd al-Dīn al-Ḥimmaṣī al-Rāzī (d. 600/1204) and his al-Munqidh min al-taqlīd through to the 13th century school of Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 1274) and his student Ibn al-Muṭahhar al-Ḥillī known as al-ʿAllāma (d. 726/1325). This period has recently been studied by Sabine Schmidtke and Hasan Ansari (although the period from al-Ḥimmaṣī to Ṭūsī is not so well known perhaps due to the uncertainties of the early Mongol age and the survival of texts and knowledge networks). Four important figures of the 12th century are the contemporaries Abu ʿAlī al-Faḍl al-Ṭabrisī (d. 548/1153) and Abūʾl-Futūḥ al-Rāzī (d. after 552/1157) authors of significant theologically inflected exegeses on the Qurʾan and Quṭb al-Dīn Rāwandī (d. 573/1177) and ʿAbd al-Jalīl Qazwīnī Rāzī whose Kitāb al-naqḍ is an invaluable source on kalām positions among the Shiʿa and others in Iran. This period is marked by the increasing influence of the Muʿtazilī thinker Abūʾl-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī (d. 436/1044) and his follower Rukn al-Dīn Ibn al-Malāḥimī (d. 536/1141) as well as the rising impact of metaphysics of Ibn Sīnā (d. 428/1037). This is sometimes considered the truly classic period of Imāmī rational theology but also marked by different trends of reception, response and engagement with the Muʿtazila and the philosophical traditions. 

4) Perhaps the most important phase - and we will return to this in the description of the book - is Ṭūsī and al-Ḥillī that established the parameters of Imāmī kalām through some key texts such as Tajrīd al-iʿtiqād (on which see my previous posts part 1, part 2, and part 3) as well as al-Ḥillī's famous creed al-Bāb al-Ḥādī ʿashar best read through the commentary al-Nāfiʿ yawm al-ḥashar by Miqdād al-Siyūrī (d. 826/1423). This then became the 'school of al-Ḥilla' in theology. 

5) Alongside that school, there was a more esoteric turn which engaged with maximalist Imamology, lettrism and the occult sciences as well as the increasing influence of the school of Ibn ʿArabī and here one thinks of a diverse set of 14th and 15th century thinkers from Sayyid Ḥaydar Āmulī (d. after 1385) to Rajab al-Bursī (d. 813/1411) [see my earlier blogpost on him] and onto Ibn Abī Jumhūr al-Aḥsāʾī (d. 1502) especially in his massive al-Mujlī that attempts to 'reconcile' Imāmī kalām with the philosophical schools of Ibn Sīnā and Suhrawardī and the Sufi metaphysics of Ibn ʿArabī (d. 1240), and Taqī al-Dīn Ibrāhīm al-Kafʿamī (d. c. 1499), compiler of a famous sets of devotions entitled al-Miṣbāḥ

6) The Safavid theologians developed the esotericist line along with the Ṭūsī-Ḥillī school and also spread the schools through translation and composition in Persian. The best examples are the philosophical theology of Mullā Ṣadrā Shīrāzī (d. 1045/1636) as well as the commentary on the Tajrīd of his student ʿAbd al-Razzāq Lāhījī (d. 1070/1661) as well as his Persian work Gawhar-i murād

Other works that tried to extend the reconciliation of philosophical theology with scripture were penned by Mullā Ṣadrā's other major student and son-in-law Muḥsin Fayḍ Kāshānī (d. 1090/1680). 

7) In the post-Safavid period, one finds the development of distinct parallel and rival branches (and that is without considering those who eventually self-identified outside of Imāmī Shiʿism such as the Bahais):
a) a deepening of Shiʿi Sufi theologies with figures such as ʿAbd al-Raḥīm Damāvandī (d. 1757) and Sayyid Quṭb al-Dīn Nayrīzī (d. 1761) that drew upon the Sufi metaphysics of Ibn ʿArabī

b) continuation of the main Safavid tradition culminating in the work of Hādī Sabzawārī (d. 1289/1873) and Hādī al-muḍillīn

c) a more extended esotericist Imāmology in the work of Sayyid Jaʿfar Kashfī (d. 1843) through to ʿAlī al-Ḥāʾirī al-Yazdī (d. 1333/ and his Ilzām al-nāṣib

d) the best known esotericism of the Shaykhī school starting with Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsāʾī (d. 1241/1826), his disciple Sayyid Kāẓim Rashtī (d. 1259/1844) and then the two traditions that developed in Kerman and Tabriz. Henry Corbin famously thought that the Shaykhī school represented the final esotericism of Imāmī Shiʿism. What was clear is that it represented a metaphysics and theology of presence that was critical of Ibn Sīnā and Mullā Ṣadrā and that found a more extended metaphysical role for the Imams as Aristotelian causes for the existence of the cosmos. A major feature of their work is philosophical theological exegesis on the Qurʾan and sayings of the Imams and devotional texts. 

8) In the modern period, alongside the continuation of Safavid esotericism and the school of al-Ḥilla (as well as the Shaykhīya), there are at least another three distinct trends:
a) Reformists who criticised and increasingly attacked the core positions on the imamate from the time of Aḥmad Kasravī (d. 1946) and Sharīʿat-Sangalajī (d. 1944) through to Ḥaydar ʿAlī Qalamdārān (d. 1983), and more recently I would include the likes of ʿAbdolkarīm Sorūsh, Moḥsen Kadivar, Moḥammad Mojtehed Shabastarī, Moṣṭafā Malekiyān and others - though there are differences in their positions on hermeneutics and the nature of religion.

b) The School of Separation (the maktab-e tafkīk) and their fideist rejection of philosophical theology in favour of insisting upon scripturalism and eschewing philosophical arguments since they 'bring into question' innate beliefs that all humans hold (such as the existence of God, and the necessity of prophecy and the imamate and so forth)

c) The New Theology (kalām-e jadīd) was one attempt starting with thinkers in Najaf such as Muḥammad Ḥusayn Iṣfahānī Kumpānī (d. 1942) and developing through his student ʿAllāma Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabātabāʾī (d. 1981) and his student Murtażā Mutahharī (d. 1979) to deploy the philosophical method and system of Mullā Ṣadrā to respond to the theological and intellectual challenges of forms of idealism, materialism, and dialectical materialism as well as atheism in the 20th century. This school is now one might say morphing into an 'analytical Sadrianism' which brings the philosophical theology of Mullā Ṣadrā into conversation with modern anglo-American analytic philosophy of religion and theology. 

Now returning to the Ṭūsī-Ḥillī school, the publication of a dual text edition of Ḥillī's Taslīk al-nafs in a translation by Jari Kaukua, who heads up the ERC-funded Epistemic Transitions in Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science project, is a major event. Up to now, there are hardly any Imāmī theological text available in such an attractive design and binding - or even in translation. I can see how it will become essential for teaching purposes even within Shiʿi circles. The fact that the translation came out of the ERC-funded project also means that the digital copy is available online on a Creative Commons license. The text is also the first in a new series of translations of the works of al-Ḥillī.

This work in a sense falls between the shorter creedal al-Bāb al-Ḥādī ʿashar and al-Ḥillī's more extensive works such as his commentary on the Tajrīd, Kashf al-murād, as well as his incomplete work on kalām (of which the metaphysics section is extant), Nihāyat al-marām fī ʿilm al-kalām and his well known Manāhij al-yaqīn.

The Arabic text follows the earlier critical edition of Fāṭima Ramaḍānī - the translator cites Schmidtke on the 8 manuscripts of the text although there are many more that are extant. 

Ramaḍānī's edition is based on the two earliest manuscripts: 1) MS British Library Or 10971 dated 18 ṣafar 716/May 1316 in the life of the author in the hand of (probably his sister's son) Sayyid ʿAlī b. al-Ḥasan al-Ḥusaynī al-Aʿrajī - and the codex also includes an ijāza to his son Fakhr al-muḥaqqiqīn and some of his marginal glosses 2) MS Maktabat Āyatullāh al-Ḥakīm in Najaf 929 dated 22 ṣafar 722/March 1322 also in the lifetime of the author and it says it is based on the autograph (which has not survived). But this is a rough copy with mistakes that are corrected in the margins. 

It is unfortunate that the translation omits the detail of which Arabic text has been used or any of the critical apparatus. But the intention of the series is not to produce critical editions. 

The introduction that follows does a decent job of outlining the importance of the text and the contribution of al-Ḥillī's ideas and his influence but independence from Muʿtazilī and Avicennian ideas. But much of it is based on Schmidtke's earlier published Oxford DPhil. One wonders whether there is more to say? 

The structure is as follows:

As with most later theological compendia, much of the text is taken up with metaphysics of general terms (general things seems a bit vague and it seems that one means the way in which we use terms like one and many and universal and particular - so the semantics of being) and categories of beings (substances and accidents and their properties). Another large chunk is on the nature of God and her attributes including the famous proofs for the existence of God. Here the important discussion of limited and compatibilist human free will as well as evil and the question of pleasures and pains as well as the very significant theological issue of God's facilitating grace (luṭf) are discussed in the section on theodicy. He consistently presents kalām arguments alongside the philosophical ones. Interesting on the major dispute on the eternity of the world he presents both arguments but does not adjudicate - elsewhere he does in favour of the theological position on creation out of nothing in time. The shortest section is on the imamate which is consistent with the other works of this genre. Given his extensive work on that topic of dispute, that is not surprising - and forthcoming titles in this series will engage with those such as the controversial Minhāj al-karāma currently being translated. The final section on the return includes the discussions on resurrection as well as the philosophical problem of how one can return to existence something that has become non-existent. It also ends with a brief discussion on the nature of faith (īmān) that takes up on old kalām debate - interestingly this section is entitled 'on names and judgements'.

The text is well designed and presented. 

The translation itself is readable if at times rather literal or interpretative (in a manner with which I disagree - for example, charge for taklīf that is often rendered as legal or moral obligation). But at least we have a translation that is workable especially alongside the Arabic. 
On the whole there is little doubt that this is a contribution that is wonderfully produced and deserves to be widely disseminated, known and used. An essential step in the study of post-classical kalām and especially Imāmī kalām.  

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Shiʿi Exegesis in South Asia: Some Further Notes on Lavāmiʿ al-tanzīl va-savāṭiʿ al-taʾvīl

Some years ago, I wrote a blogpost on Sayyid Abūʾl-Qāsim Riżavī Qummī Lāhorī (1833–1906) and on his extensive Persian exegesis Lavāmiʿ al-tanzīl va savāṭiʿ al-taʾwīl - I have now corrected some of the links to volumes of the text available as pdfs online. The first volume was printed in Lahore in 1299/1882:

It begins with an extensive table of contents. There are seventeen preliminaries, to which I will return, followed by the discussion of the istiʿādha (formulaic seeking refuge from Satan), the basmala and the Fātiḥa. Each verse or section is divided into mabāḥis; further sub-divisions of exegetical glosses are called īrād and ishkāl. While the approach and register is scholarly - and he has an extensive key for the sources that he cites (both Shiʿi - khāṣṣa - and Sunni - ʿāmma) - the language is accessible and simple, perhaps indicating that the work was not merely intended for a scholarly Persophone audience of ʿulema but also for a wider Persian reading public (which in Lahore in this period was extensive as we know from the publishing and the literary scene onto which Iqbal emerged slightly later). 

The table of contents is followed by three (chronogrammatic) poems in praise of the exegesis by Mīr Mūsā Shāh and Maulvī Muḥammad Sharīf Kābulī (the link may well be through Riżavī's Qizilbash patron ʿAlī Riżā Khān who spent some time in Kabul and was as we know a loyalist during 1857 - I have not for the moment attempted to identify the poets but one suspects if they are major figures that some taẕkira somewhere will throw up some details). Then we have a bunch of endorsements (taqrīẓāt) starting with Mīrzā Abūʾl-Qāsim Ṭabāṭabāʾī (1826–1901),

followed by the famous leader of the Tobacco boycott from Sāmarrāʾ Mīrzā Muḥammad Ḥasan Shīrāzī (1815–1896), 

and Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ardakānī, known as Fāżil-e Ardakānī (1820–1885)

These endorsements - and we are also told that the exegesis was initiated in 1296/1879 just a few years prior - attest to the fame and network that Riżavī and his son had in the shrine cities of Iraq and the ways in which Shiʿi scholars of North India were rather well integrated into the hierocratic networks of the period. 

Any work of exegesis tells us much about the exegete, his training and his contexts and the ways in which he seeks to engage the revelation. The preliminaries are therefore predicated on his understanding of the totality of the Qurʾanic arts that are needed to study the text. It also shows us that the exegetical uses of the Qurʾan in Riżavī's Hindustānī context went beyond merely reading the text but indicated the totality of the Qurʾanicity of the lived experience and engage with the artefact, the sonoscope and the totality sensory and cultural experience of the Qurʾan. 

In the khuṭba, he tells us that in these last days of the 13th century (late 19th century CE), in North India and Lahore in particular (cited as the place of composition), many different confessions are using the Qurʾan and the process of exegesis to put forward a defence of their 'corrupt' and 'vain' theologies, 'resisting and denying the truth' of the revelation and sound doctrine. Given this contested nature of Islam in the colonial period and the role of the Qurʾan as a primary signifier of meaning of one's confessional adherence, Riżavī invokes the convention of meaning a group of friends (and students) asking him to present the Shiʿi tradition and case through the exercise of exegesis. His function is to explain difficult issues, response to objections and removed any doubts (whether ancient or modern) about the Shiʿi tradition in a godly and precise and effective manner, eschewing fake narratives and keeping decorum and an ethical mode of presentation founded upon proofs and reliable indicators. His method is to take forward the argument and the tradition through the complete homology and confluence of the use of rational discourse as well as citation of the authority of revelation (ʿaql va naql). Following further pious supplications, he then says that the work is dedicated to - and here again a whole list of honorifics that suggest scholarly status - Nawāb (Sir) Nawāzish ʿAlī Khān Qizilbāsh (1828–1890), the son of his patron ʿAlī Riżā Khān Qizilbāsh (d. 1865).  

Here are the headings of those seventeen preliminaries (and the two most commonly cited authorities are Majmaʿ al-bayān of al-Ṭabrisī and Majmaʿ al-baḥrayn by Fakhr al-Dīn al-Ṭurayḥī - and on Sunni positions, the authority of Tafsīr-e kabīr or Mafātīḥ al-ghayb of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī - as we have seen in the work of his teachers and the circles in Lucknow in this period, Rāzī represented authoritative Sunni positions on exegesis and kalām):

1. on the names of the Qurʾan and their meanings; 

2. on both the exoteric and the esoteric exegesis (on the tafsīr and the taʾwīl) and on the distinction between the cognitive content and meaning (maʿnā) and the exposition (bayān);

3. on the Qurʾan as the defining 'miracle' of the Prophet and on some of the Qurʾanic arts needed to make sense of this miracle (in the sense of its eloquence and order and style) - while critiquing the majoritarian (Sunni) idea of the Prophet being 'unlettered' (ummī), and asserting the the Prophet was the source of many of the sciences and arts that were latter expanded;

4. on the precedence and superiority of the Qurʾan over other scriptures; 

5. on the meaning of the seven aḥruf

6. on the seven or fourteen canonical recitations (qirāʾāt) - he presents two tables for these and also asserts their being extensively corroborated in their transmission (mutawātir);  

7. on the number of verses and sūras and the difference between the Meccan and the Medinan;

8. On the recitation and the way of pronouncing the text (tartīl and taʿyīn al-makhārij) - a practical guide to stopping points, breathing and so forth; 

9. on the rewards for correct and melodious recitation;

10. on the rewards for melodious recitation with a good voice; 

11. on whether there is any omission or change in the Qurʾan - the problem of taḥrīf on which he says that while all Muslims agree that there is none, there are broadly two positions: the first of the literalist ḥadīth-folk (among the Shiʿa) who assert that there is and the second that there is not which is the position of the scholars from al-Ṣadūq to al-Sayyid al-Murtaḍā and so forth. Given the importance of the debate on this in this period in Persian and the pluralist and polemical context of Lahore, it is clear that he wished to exonerate the Shiʿa from this charge;

12. on the periodisation of the revelation and previous revelations and scriptures; 

13. on ʿAlī and the Imams possessing the complete Qurʾan and its knowledge which is located in a polemic against Sunni polemicists like Ibn Ḥajar on the knowledge of the Imams and the question of taḥrīf;  

14. on a quarter of the Qurʾan constituting the excellences and virtues of the family of the Prophet and on this in a polemical vein, he asserts that he will only use reliable Sunni sources to establish this; 

15. on condemnation of exegesis by analogical reasoning (qiyās) or by one's own opinion (raʾy) - he includes in this Sufi exegesis of the school of Ibn ʿArabī (to whom he refers as Mumīt al-dīn al-Aʿrābī) and laments its preponderance; 

16. on his use of reliable and authentic narrations and sources from both Sunni and Shiʿi traditions in this exegesis; 

17. on the sources that he uses - and this is an extensive list that tells us how he defines the normative Shiʿi tradition and the Sunni traditions  not just in exegesis and exegetical hadith but also kalām and related arts. 

What emerges from this brief perusal of the preliminaries is the way in which Riżavī's understanding of the Shiʿi tradition is steeped in the Lucknow tradition of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī (d. 1820) and his family with its focus on rational theology, curbing the excesses of the hadith-folk, attacking Sufi orientation and especially the influence of the school of Ibn ʿArabī and defining the normative Shiʿi exegetical tradition though the major works in the 11th and 12th century of al-Ṭūsī, al-Ṭabrisī, and Abūʾl-Futūḥ al-Rāzī. In that sense, he can been seen as a Shiʿi defender of his tradition in a polemical sense in the colonial period defining the tradition in the religious marketplace of ideas in Lahore, differentiating himself from various Sunni, ahl-e Qurʾān and ahl-e ḥadīs and even Aḥmadī and other positions, as well as separating himself from more popular 'exaggerations' of the role of the Imams and the tying of that position with the Sufi metaphysics of the school of Ibn ʿArabī.