ʿĀMELĪ EṢFAHĀNĪ, ABU’L-ḤASAN ŠARĪF B. MOḤAMMAD ṬĀHER, Shiʿite theologian and author (d. Naǰaf, 1138/1726). He was born in Isfahan, where he spent most of his life, into a family of Iranized sayyeds originally from Jabal al-ʿĀmel in Lebanon; he studied with the great Shiʿite theologian Moḥammad Bāqer Maǰlesī, from whom he received the eǰāza or “license to teach” in 1107/ 1695. He also followed the teachings of Neʿmatallāh Jazāʾerī, Qāżī Saʿīd Qomī, and Moḥsen Fayż Kāšānī. He is both a theologian and a philosopher in the sense that his major work bears witness to the stimulation that Shiʿite theological thought provided for philosophic research. Though he is said to have written a large 60,000 line book on the imamate, no manuscript of it survives; he is known to us by his Koranic commentary, the Arabic Tafsīr merʾāt al-anwār (“The mirror of lights”), presented as the “prolegomena to all Shiʿite hermeneutics of the Koran.” This project aimed at demonstrating the esoteric and spiritual meaning (bāṭen) of the Koran by collecting all the traditions going back to the Imams relevant to each verse, but its completion exceeded the limits of a single human lifetime. The part of it that the author finished contains only Prolegomena (Moqaddamāt) I to III (the recent edition by M. b. J. Mūsawī Zarandī, Tehran, 1374/1955, forms a folio volume of 362 pp. and includes a biography of the author). The long third part is a type of work which in the West was called Clavis hermeneutica; around some 1,300 typical Koranic words the author assembles the minimum information coming from the Hadith of the Imams. The general thesis is that the exoteric (ẓāher) meaning of the Koran concerns that which touches on tawḥīd and the prophetic mission and message (nobūwa and resāla). But, as Imam Moḥammad Bāqer observed, the Koran would long since have ceased to be a living book if its significance were exhausted in the exterior sense relating to past events and the circumstances in which the verses were revealed. The entire esoteric meaning (bāṭen) of the Koran concerns everything related to the imamate and walāya, concepts which are the source of the philosophy, as well as of the spirituality, of Shiʿism. The tendency of Iranian editors has been to consider the work, unfairly, as an introduction to the great Tafsīr al-borhān of Sayyed Hāšem Baḥrānī (d. between 1107/1695 and 1109/1697), because the four large volumes of the latter partially realize the project of ʿĀmelī. The “Mirror of Lights,” which deals with the whole tradition of spiritual hermeneutics, is one of the monuments of Iranian theological literature, furnishing inexhaustible material for comparative research on the hermeneutics of the Book among the three “People of the Book” (ahl al-ketāb).
H. Corbin, En Islam iranien: aspects spirituels et philosophiques I: Le Shi’isme duodecimain, Paris, 1971 (see index to vol. IV).
Idem, report on a course devoted to ʿĀmelī in Annuaire de l’Ēcole pratique des Hautes-Ētudes (Sorbonne), Section des Sciences Religieuses 63, 1965-66, pp. 106-09.
Originally Published: December 15, 1989
Last Updated: August 2, 2011
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Vol. I, Fasc. 9, pp. 931-932