Academic journal article Hemispheres

Has Tabari's Tafsir, Jami' Al-Bayan Ever Been Lost? Rethinking the Historiography of Tafsir in the Light of Ottoman Documents

Academic journal article Hemispheres

Has Tabari's Tafsir, Jami' Al-Bayan Ever Been Lost? Rethinking the Historiography of Tafsir in the Light of Ottoman Documents

Article excerpt

Introduction

Scholarly evaluation of academic studies on Ottoman Tafsir literature has generally been quite unfavourable. Historians in the field often imply that the Ottomans, despite their influence on Islamic civilisation, left no legacy in the study of the Qur'an worth mentioning. 1 Recent research challenges this conclusion. The Ottomans established Qur'an centres (Dar al-Qurra) and Madrasas in various cities, including Istanbul, Bursa, Edirne, Konya, Damascus, and Bosnia, and they handed over the legacy of traditional Islamic sciences from the Saljuks and Mamluks. It seems unlikely, then, that they have produced no work in Qur'anic studies that is worth mentioning. Indeed, this scholarly neglect and marginalisation of Ottoman Tafsir studies is still continued by Western and Arab scholars. This omission arises from more than innocent neglect, but rather is rooted in historiography. The historiography of Tafsir in the current time was established first by western scholars, including Nöldeke, Goldziher, Baljon, and Jomier. They were followed by Arab scholars such as Husayn al-Dhahabi, Salah al-Khalidi etc. These scholars tended to be dismissive of the Ottoman Tafsir tradition, suggesting that Ottoman scholars showed little originality and that Ottoman Tafsir mostly takes the form of Hashiya (i.e. textual explanation of tafsir books) and therefore makes no significant contribution to the history of Tafsir.2

However, the main reason behind this neglect seems to be a paradigm shift from a traditional to a new historiography of Tafsir in the colonial era. Traditional Muslim tafsir historians used to use a chronological system called Tabaqat in Muslim literature and usually classifies Muslim exegetes (mufassirs) in a chronological order ( tabaqat) starting with the first generation, Companions ( Sahaba) of the Prophet, and finishing with the last person in the link to indicate the existence of a chain and unity in the literature. This kind of historiography is commonly called as tabaqat al-mufassirin. The genre of tabaqat recalls the general name of historiography in other Islamic sciences such * as Hadith (Tabaqat al-Muhaddisin), Philosophy (Tabaqat al-Hukama), Literature (Tabaqat al-Udeba and al-Shu'ara) etc. Muslims have differentiated between two fields, Politics and Science in regard to writing their histories. The term " Tarikh" (history) is generally used for political events in specific dynasties but the term of "Tabaqat" is a kind of literature used only for science and arts and was coined and applied by Muslims themselves to collect the biographical data of the successive generations in the same field. To write a history on Islamic civilisation in this pattern has some advantages, as Gibb says:

"The early dictionaries themselves give no reasons for their composition, but plunge directly into their subjects. Further, these subjects themselves are in no instance limited to political personalities, nor are political figures and events given special attention. On the contrary, political history is entirely incidental to the main structure of the works. Thus it is clear that the conception that underlines the oldest biographical dictionaries is that the history of the Islamic Community is essentially the contribution of individual men and women to the building up and transmission of its specific culture; that is these persons (rather than the political governors) who represent or reflect the active forces in Muslim society in their respective spheres; and that their individual contributions are worthy of being recorded for future generations". 3

That is to say that in this kind of historiography, it seems to be claimed that the main figure in the history of Islamic civilisation is not the politicians or leaders but the scholars educated in traditional patterns and handed down Islamic knowledge over the succeeding generations. In these kinds of books, the personal aspects of the biography of any mufassirs such as names of the author, dates of his death, schools he belongs to (for instance, hanafi, shafii, mu'tazili, ash'ari etc. …

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