[P6425] Islamic Esotericisms: From Theology to Exegesis

Created by Khalil Andani
Friday, 12/03/21 11:30 am


Islamic traditions commonly categorized as "esoteric" offer novel modes of Quranic exegesis that are grounded in distinctive theological worldviews. The relationship between esoteric philosophical theologies and scriptural exegesis remains virtually unexplored in Islamic intellectual history. This panel showcases how the Brethren of Purity, four Ismāʿīlī philosophical theologians, and Sayyid Bahāʾ al-Dīn Ḥaydar al-Āmulī (d. after 787/1385) each present esoteric readings of Scripture by applying their theological frameworks by way of Quranic hermeneutics.

The first paper argues that the Brethren’s conception of God demonstrates how they combined Qur’ānic symbols with Ismāʿīlī Hermetic and NeoPythagorean ontology and Neoplatonic cosmology to chart a way by which human beings can bring themselves closer to God. Firstly, it shows that despite the Neoplatonic emanationist model which they follow, they insist on God’s direct intervention in the lives of individuals. Second, the request for God to provide a spirit instead of His direct help is indicative of their Hermetic theurgical beliefs.

The second paper analyzes the Ismaili ta’wil of the Adam story as found in four sources: Sara’ir wa-asrar al-nutuqa by Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman, Asas al-ta’wil by al-Nu‘man (10th CE), Rawda-yi Taslim by Nasir al-Din Tusi (13th CE), and Zahr al-ma‘ani by Idris Imad al-Din (15th CE). It argues that the Ismaili ta’wil of the Adamic creation story is primarily concerned with interpreting Quranic narrative in harmony with Ismaili theology, cosmology, and sacred history. The Ismaili interpretations are focused on: 1) safeguarding the absolute transcendence of God above all anthropomorphic qualities, such as vocal speech and breathing; 2) interpreting the creation of Adam from water/clay as his prophetic initiation as opposed to physical creation, so as to affirm Adam’s natural birth from human parents; 3) establishing the concrete existence of the Imam and his da‘wa as a metahistorical channel of divine guidance on earth both before Adam and in direct succession from Adam to the present day.

The last paper focuses on Ḥaydar al-Āmulī’s systematic synthesis of the Ṣūfī and Shīʿī traditions in terms of his vision of "ontological tawḥīd" — the most fundamental doctrine of Islamic monotheism. The paper shows how this esoteric theology clearly participates in a widespread épistémè of the time that viewed the cosmos, the Quran, and human souls, each as a divinely revealed scripture; such ideas were current in a variety of discursive spheres, including Ṣūfism (especially among Ṣūfīs sympathetic to Ibn ʿArabī), Shīʿism (especially among Ismāʿīlīs), and occultism.




Rel Stds/Theo; Rel Stds/Theo; Rel Stds/Theo