iii. In Persian
The writing of commentaries on the Koran in Persian seems to have begun during the second half of the 4th/10th century. The principal objective of such tafsīrs was ostensibly to give Persian speakers who were not proficient in Arabic direct access to the exegesis of the Koran. For example, the earliest Persian tafsīr that can be dated with any certainty is the so-called translation of Ṭabarī’s commentary (Tarjama-ye tafsīr-e Ṭabarī), which was commissioned by the Samanid Amir Manṣūr b. Nūḥ (r. 350-65/961-76). According to the introduction to this work (I, p. 5), Manṣūr, having been presented with the forty volumes of Ṭabarī’s Arabic commentary and finding himself unable to understand them, ordered a fatwa to be obtained for their translation into Persian. A century later, the commentator Abū Bakr ʿAtīq Sūrābādī explained that one of his reasons for choosing to write his tafsīr in Persian was so that those who did not know Arabic would not need another teacher to explain it to them (quoted in intro. to Sūrābādī, ed. Mahdawī and Bayānī, p. 6). In Arabic, Koranic exegesis remained largely the preserve of scholars (Abu’l-Maḥāsen Jorjānī, p. 2; Lāhījī, p. 1). A Persian tafsīr, however, could reach a much wider public; its benefit could be more universal (Abu’l-Fotūḥ Rāzī, p. 2; Sūrābādī, p. 6; Nīšābūrī, p. 5) since it was accessible to the generality of believers (ʿawāmm) and not just a scholarly elite (ḵawāṣṣ; Abu’l-Maḥāsen Jorjānī, p. 2).
A Persian tafsīr was also a means of promulgating certain doctrines—be they sectarian, theological or mystical—according to which the Koran was being interpreted. The 5th/11th century commentator Abu’l- Moẓaffar Šāhfūr Esfarāyenī states that the Community (ommat) had unanimously agreed that the exegesis of the Koran should be read out in Persian, both at scholarly gatherings and from the menbar at assemblies where everyone (ḵāṣṣ and ʿāmm, religious and worldly alike) was present (Esfarāyenī, pp. 8-9). Persian tafsīrs would have been accessible not only to native Persian speakers from the Iranian plateau, but to others, such as Turks and Indians, for whom Persian became a language of communication. In the case of some Sufi commentators on the Koran, they may have chosen Persian for aesthetic reasons, as a language that gave them more scope for the free, direct, and poetic expression of their mystical insights.
At the outset, Persian tafsīr writing, like other forms of Persian literature, was centered in northeastern Iran; almost all the Persian tafsīrs from the 4th/10th to 6th/12th centuries which have come down to us were written in Khorasan or Transoxiania. The scope of exegetical content in these early Persian commentaries on the Koran varied considerably, ranging from little more than a translation of the verses and the narration of stories of the prophets (qeṣaṣ al-anbīāʾ) and circumstances of revelation (asbāb al-nozūl) to all the traditional aspects of Koranic exegesis. To a certain extent, this variation in content would have been determined by the purpose for which the commentaries were written and the audience for which they were intended; for example, tafsīrs which had a greater story-telling component might have been intended for a more popular audience, while those which included discussions of Arabic lexicography and grammar might be regarded as teaching tafsīrs, intended for people who wished to increase their knowledge of Arabic.
Between the 4th/10th and 6th/12th centuries, however, it is possible to see an overall development as regards the level of intellectual content, the extent of scholarly material, and the number of Arabic quotations included in Persian tafsīrs. By the second half of the 5th/11th century there were Persian tafsīrs which included most aspects of exegesis, as well as some lengthy theological discussions of Koranic verses (e.g., in the Tāj al-tarājem of Esfarāyenī and the Tafsīr of Sūrābādī), and by the middle of the 6th/12th century the first mystical commentaries in Persian had appeared (Laṭāʾef al-tafsīr of Darvājakī and Kašf al-asrār of Meybodī) and the first Persian Shiʿite commentary (Rawż al-jenān of Abu’l-Fotūḥ Rāzī). At that time there was also a development in the literary style of Persian tafsīrs with the inclusion of passages of rhyming and metrical prose (Darvājakī and Meybodī) and Persian poetry (Meybodī). The mid-5th/11th to mid-6th/12th century was one of the most productive eras of Persian tafsīr writing, and at least seven complete Persian commentaries on the Koran have come down to us from that period. During the two centuries which followed the Mongol invasion, there appears to have been little activity in Persian tafsīr writing. However, flourishes of activity occurred again later during the Timurid period; during the Safavid period, particularly under the patronage of Shah Ṭahmāsp; and in India, under the Mughals.
From the 6th/12th century on, more specialized tafsīrs began to be written in Persian (Ṭūsī; Abu’l-Fatḥ Jorjānī). Commentaries on single verses or chapters (sūras) of the Koran became an especially popular form of tafsīr for mystics and philosophers: e.g., the Tafsīr-e sūra-ye fāteḥa (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 30) and Resāla-ye eḵlāṣ (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 28; Storey, I/1, pp. 8-9) of Shah Neʿmat-Allāh Walī (d. 834/1431) or the Tahlīlīya (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 36), a commentary on the phrase lā elāha ella’llāh from a literal (loḡawī) and intellectual (ʿaqlī) point of view, by Jalāl-al-Dīn Davānī (q.v.; d. 908/1502). Koranic exegesis was, moreover, not confined to tafsīr works but appeared in all genres of religious writing in Persian, such as the Kīmīā-ye saʿādat of Moḥammad Ḡazālī (q.v.), the Rawḥ al-arwāḥ of Aḥmad Samʿānī, and the Maṯnawī of Rūmī.
Commentaries on the Koran have continued to be written in Persian down to the present day, although Arabic remains the principal language for Koranic exegesis. The catalogues of Storey and Monzawī list over two hundred Persian tafsīrs, of which some have been preserved intact in one or more manuscripts, while others have survived only as fragments.
The following is an account of some important tafsīr works in Persian. The extent of the detail provided has necessarily been determined by the availability of the material to the author at the time of writing. For information about other Persian tafsīrs the relevant catalogues should be consulted (Storey; Monzawī, Nosḵahā).
Mid-4th/10th—Mid-5th/11th Century. The Tarjama-ye tafsīr-e Ṭabarī is the only complete Koranic commentary dating from this period. Although it draws upon both the history and the tafsīr by Moḥammad b. Jarīr Ṭabarī (d. 310/923), the work actually bears no resemblance to Ṭabarī’s Arabic original but takes the form of sections of translation of the Koranic verses, followed by sections of commentary which, for the most part, consist of stories. These include stories relating to the verses, such as stories of the prophets (qeṣaṣ al-anbīāʾ) and circumstances of revelation (asbāb al-nozūl), as well as stories which have no apparent connection with the Koran at all, such as legends of the ancient Persian kings or accounts of the early caliphate. Other aspects of traditional exegesis, such as discussions of relevant traditions, variant readings, abrogation (nasḵ), variant interpretations, and so on, are almost entirely absent from the Persian Ṭabarī.
Another early Persian commentary which has lengthy passages of story-telling, but includes more exegetical material than the Persian Ṭabarī, is the undated Tafsīr-e Qorʾān-e pāk, otherwise known as the Lahore tafsīr. This is a fragment consisting of commentary on some verses from the Sūrat al-baqara (Koran 2:63-145 and 233). Among other undated tafsīrs of this period are two fragments which have been published under the titles Baḵš-ī az tafsīr-ī kohan and Tafsīr-ī kohan ba pārsī. Both have a substantial exegetical content, with comparatively brief passages of narrative relating qeṣaṣ and asbāb al-nozūl material. The first, which comprises the commentary on verses 2:78-274, takes the form of an expanded translation with explanatory traditions. The second, comprising a commentary on Koran 7:176 (in Sūrat al-aʿrāf) to 16:69 (Sūrat al-naḥl), is notable for its discussions of Arabic lexicography and grammar. The language and prose style of all these fragments places them somewhere between the mid-4th/10th and mid-5th/11th centuries and in eastern Iran (Āḏarnuš, pp. 89, 97; Tafsīrī kohan, intro., pp. 6-7).
After the Tarjama-ye tafsīr-e Ṭabarī, the most extensive Persian tafsīr to have survived from this period is the Tafsīr-e Qorʾān-e majīd, otherwise known as the Cambridge tafsīr (described in Browne). This consists of a commentary on the second half of the Koran, from Sūrat Maryam to the end. The content of this tafsīr is balanced and varied. In addition to the usual aspects of exegesis, there are discussions of theological questions relating to the verses, some lively passages of narrative, and some interesting metaphorical interpretations.
Mid-5th/11th—End of 6th/12th century. The second complete Persian tafsīr to have come down to us is the Tāj al-tarājem fī tafsīr al-Qorʾān le’l-aʿājem,written by Abu’l-Moẓaffar Šāhfūr b. Ṭāher b. Moḥammad Esfarāyenī (d. 471/1078). Being dissatisfied with existing translations of the Koran, which he claimed were too literal and did not fully explain the meaning of the verses, the author decided to make a new translation which would be “in accordance with the sayings of commentators, and with theological doctrine, and would avoid any taʾwīl [speculative interpretation] which involved the two extremes of taʿṭīl [negation of the reality of the divine attributes] and tašbīh [anthropomorphism]” (Esfarāyenī, pp. 5-6). Hence he gave his work the title (laqab) of Tāj al-tarājem, “Crown of Translations.” Esfarāyenī’s translations of the verses are followed by a substantial commentary, which includes most aspects of exegesis as well as theologicial discussions according to the doctrine of the ahl-e sonna wa jamāʿa.
Some twenty years later, Abū Bakr ʿAtīq Nīšābūrī Sūrābādī (d. 484/1091) wrote a commentary which has come to be known as the Tafsīr-e Sūrābādī. In this commentary, as in the Tāj al-tarājem, verses (or parts of verses) are given in Arabic and then followed by the Persian translation and commentary. A peculiarity of this tafsīr is that exegetical discussions take the form of questions and answers, setting out problems and difficulties which arise from the verses.
Several complete commentaries have survived from the 6th/12th century, the earliest being the Laṭāʾef al-tafsīr (dated 519/1125) of the Hanafite scholar Faḵr-al-Eslām Abu’l-Naṣr Aḥmad b. Ḥasan Darvājakī (d. 549/1154). Among his many laqabs is al-Šayḵ al-zāhed, hence the commentary is also known by the title Tafsīr-e zāhedī. Darvājakī’s commentary includes all aspects of Koranic exegesis as well as some mystical interpretations. The work, which has yet to be published, is mostly written in a simple style of Persian, but there are some passages of rhyming prose (Māhyār, pp. 68 f.).
The Kašf al-asrār wa ʿoddat al-abrār was begun by the Shafiʿite scholar and mystic Abu’l Fażl Rašīd-al-Dīn Meybodī one year later, in 520/1126. Based on a now lost commentary by Ḵᵛāja ‘Abd-Allāh Anṣārī (q.v.), Meybodī’s tafsīr is uniquely arranged according to three nawbats. The first nawbat presents the translation of the verses; the second, the exoteric commentary, comprising all the aspects of conventional exegesis; and the third, the mystical commentary. This is an extensive tafsīr, standing at ten volumes in its printed edition, The sections of the second nawbat contain numerous traditions, sometimes quoted in Persian, sometimes in Arabic, and sometimes in both. The mystical sections contain many passages of metrical and rhyming prose and poetry, and they are replete with anecdotes and sayings of well-known Sufis. The form, style, and content of the mystical sections of the Kašf al-asrār became the model for many later mystical tafsīrs in Persian.
The first Twelver Shiʿite tafsīr to be written in Persian, and possibly the first Persian tafsīr to have been written outside northeastern Iran, was the Rawż al-jenān wa rawḥ al-janān of Abu’l-Fotūḥ Rāzī (q.v.; d. ca. mid-6th/12th century). The author treats all aspects of Koranic exegesis, and includes numerous traditions, from both Sunni and Shiʿite sources, many quoted in Arabic as well as in Persian. This is one of the most extensive Persian tafsīrs, numbering twenty volumes in the most recent printed edition.
Another undated tafsīr which was probably written around the middle of the 6th/12th century is the Baṣāʾer yamīnī (or BasÂāʾer al-tafsīr) of Moʿīn-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. Maḥmūd Nīšābūrī. In this tafsīr, the translation of the verses is incorporated into the commentary. The author draws on many sources, including Ḡazālī’s Eḥyāʾ ʿolūm al-dīn, but often adds to the comments of his predecessors explanations and observations of his own. Many of these are of a homiletic if not mystical nature. The occurrence of sajʿ (rhyming prose) is rare, but the use of metaphors is typical of mystical literature of this period.
The first commentary devoted to a single sūra of the Koran, al-Settīn al-jāmeʿ le’l-laṭāʾef al-basāṭīn, or Tafsīr-e sūra-ye Yūsof was written by Aḥmad b. Moḥammad b. Zayd Ṭūsī around the middle of the 6th/12th century. This mystical commentary is augmented with poems, anecdotes, and sayings of well-known Sufis. The work is divided into sixty chapters and is modeled on the mystical sections of Meybodī’s Kašf al-asrār, from which it draws sayings of Ḵᵛāja ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣārī.
7th/13th and 8th/14th centuries. Although some important Arabic tafsīrs were written during this period, including the Anwār al-tanzīl of ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿOmar Bayżawī (q.v.) and the mystical commentary begun by Najm-al-Dīn Kobrā (d. 618/1221) and continued by his disciples Najm-al-Dīn Dāyā Rāzī (d. 654/1256) and ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla Semnānī (d. 736/1336), there appears to have been little activity in Persian tafsīr writing. Two works which might be mentioned here are the Tafsīr-e sūra-ye eḵlāṣ (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 28) by Naṣīr-al-Dīn Ṭūsī (d. 672/1273) and a commentary on Sūrat al-fāteḥa (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 30) by Maḥmūd Šabestarī (d. 720/1320).
9th/15th and 10th/16th centuries. From the first half of the 9th/15th century, there are several Sufi commentaries on selected sūras and verses of the Koran. Among these are two commentaries written by the disciple of Bahāʾ-al-Dīn Naqšband, Moḥammad b. Moḥammad Ḥāfeẓī Boḵārī, known as Moḥammad Pārsā (d. 822/1420): the Tafsīr-e Moḥammad Pārsā, comprising a commentary on selected sūras from the last section (jozʾ) of the Koran, and the Tafsīr-e ṯamānīya (Storey, I/1, p. 8), a commentary on the last eight sūras. There are also commentaries on various sūras by Shah Neʿmat-Allāh Walī (d. 834/1431), including the Tafsīr-e sūra-ye tawḥīd (Resāla-ye eḵlās; Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 27), Tafsīr-e lā elāha ellā’llāh (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 34) and Tafsīr-e āya-ye koll šayʾ hālek ellā wajhah (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 25). Perhaps the first Persian tafsīr to have been written in India is the Baḥr al-mawwāj (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, pp. 7-8; Storey, I/1, pp. 9-10, I/2, p. 1193) of Šehāb-al-Dīn Dawlatābādī (d. 849/1445). This voluminous commentary was dedicated to Sultan Ebrāhīm Šarqī (r. 804-44/1401-40).
The late Timurid period in Herat saw increased activity in Persian tafsīr writing under the patronage of Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā and his vizier ʿAlī-Šīr Navāʾī. Among the unpublished works attributed to the Sufi poet ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmī (d. 898/1492) are a Tafsīr-e sūra-ye fāteḥat al-ketāb and Tafsīr-e sūra-ye yāsīn (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, pp. 29, 32). Kamāl-al-Dīn Ḥosayn Wāʿeẓ Kāšefī (d. 910/1504), who was related by marriage to Jāmī, dedicated two Koranic commentaries to ʿAlī-Šīr Navāʾī. The first was a large commentary of which only the first volume was completed; the second, named Mawāheb ʿalīya in honor of the vizier, was completed between 897/1491 and 899/1493. This comprehensive commentary includes some mystical interpretations, passages of sajʿ and poetry, including poetry of Rūmī, and sayings of Anṣārī quoted from Meybodī’s Kašf al-asrār. Another mystical commentary written during the reign of Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā is the Ḥadāʾeq al-ḥaqāʾeq, a commentary on the Sūrat Yūsof written by Moʿīn-al-Dīn Farāhī Herawi (d. 908/1502). Like Ṭūsī’s Settīn, the Ḥadāʾeq is arranged in sixty chapters and is modeled on the style of Meybodī’s Kašf al-asrār, combining tafsīr, often narrated in rhyming prose, with anecdotes, sayings of well-known Sufis, and poetry.
Dating from the 9th/15th or 10th/16th century is an important Shiʿite tafsīr written by Abu’l-Maḥāsen Ḥosayn b. Ḥasan Jorjānī, the Jelāʾ al-aḏhān wa jalāʾ al-aḥzān, better known as Tafsīr-e Gāzor. This commentary is based on and largely derived from the Rawż al-jenān of Abu’l-Fotūḥ Rāzī. Several Shiʿite commentaries were written under the patronage of Shah Ṭahmāsp. These include the Tafsīr-e šāhī or Āyāt al-aḥkām, of ʿAllāma Sayyed Abu’l-Fatḥ Jorjānī (d. 976/1568), a commentary on the legislative verses of the Koran arranged according to the different categories of the šarīʿa; the Tarjamat al-ḵawāṣṣ of Faḵr-al-Dīn Zavārī (or Zavārāʾī), completed in 946/1539-40, which remains unpublished, and the Manhaj al-ṣādeqīn fī elzām al-moḵālefīn, written by Fatḥ-Allāh Kāšānī (d. 988/1580). The latter is a substantial commentary which, again, draws heavily on Rāzī’s Rawż al-jenān but also includes quatrains of homiletic poetry in Persian warning of the transience of the world (Baḵšāyešī, II, p. 412). The author afterwards wrote an abridgement of this commentary, the Ḵolāṣat al-manhaj (Storey, I/1, p. 16; Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 45).
11th/17th and 12th/18th centuries. Another important Shiʿite tafsīr was written later in the Safavid period by Bahāʾ-al-Dīn Moḥammad Shaykh ʿAlī Šarīf Lāhījī, entitled Tafsīr-e Šarīf Lāhījī (completed 1086/1675). Unlike Abu’l-Fotūḥ Rāzī and Abu’l-Maḥāsen Jorjānī, Lāhījī confined himself to Shiʿite Hadith. Other features of Lāhījī’s exegetical method noted by Mīr Jalāl-al-Dīn Hosaynī Ormavī Moḥaddeṯ, the editor of his tafsīr, are that he translates the verses according to their overall meaning rather than word by word; that he tries to resolve any apparent contradictions between accounts (rewāyāt); that when there is a difference of opinion between the Sunni and Shiʿite interpretations he will state the Sunni case before arguing the Shiʿite position; that he is never prolix in his narration of qeṣaṣ; and that he draws on his knowledge of authorities (rejāl) when narrating Hadith (Šarīf Lāhījī, intro., p. 11). Around this time, the foremost pupil of Mollā Ṣadrā, Mollā Moḥsen Fayż Kāšānī (q.v.; d. 1091/1680) wrote, in addition to his two well-known Arabic commentaries al-Ṣafā and al-Aṣfā, a mystical commentary in Persian on a verse from the Sūrat al-aḥzāb (Koran 33:72) known as Tafsīr-e āya-ye amānat (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 5).
During this period, several Persian tafsīrs were written in India under the patronage of the Mughals. These include the Zēb-e tafāsīr (Storey, I/1, p. 19), a large commentary by Moḥammad Ṣafī Qazvīnī, dedicated to the daughter of the Emperor Awrangzēb (r. 1069-1118/1659-1707) and probably completed in 1087/1676; the Tafsīr-e amīnī (Storey, I/1, p. 19; Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 27), written for Awrangzēb by Moḥammad Amīn Ḥosaynī; and the Neʿmat al-ʿoẓemāʾ (Storey, I/1, p. 20) written by Mīrzā Nūr-al-Dīn Moḥammad (d. 1121/1709 or 1122/1710), a Shiʿite of the Aḵbārī school (see AḴBĀRĪYA) to whom Awrangzēb gave the title Neʿmat Khan (Nizamud-Din, p. 183). The well-known Indian Sufi Qoṭb-al-Dīn Walī-Allāh Dehlavī (q.v.), known as Šāh Walī-Allāh, (d. 1762) wrote two tafsīr works in Persian, the Fatḥ al-raḥmān fī tarjamat al-Qorʾān, an annotated translation of the Koran, and al-Fawz al-kabīr fi oṣūl al-tafsīr (Storey I/1, pp. 21-22), on the principles of exegesis.
13th/19th and 14th/20th centuries. Among Persian tafsīrs from the Qajar period are the Toḥfat al-ḵāqān (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 10; Storey, II/1, p. 1203) of Nawwāb Mīrzā Moḥammad Bāqer b. Moḥammad Lāhījānī (d. 1340/1921), a commentary arranged according to subject matter under the headings qeṣaṣ, aḥkām, maʿāref, mawāʿeẓ, and mawāʿīd, which was commissioned by Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah (q.v.) in 1230-31/1814-16; the Yūsofīya (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, pp. 67-68), a commentary on Sūrat Yūsof (Koran 12), also written during the time of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah in 1243/1827 by Mīrzā Moḥammad-Hādī b. Abu’l-Ḥasan Šarīf Nāʾīnī; and, later, the Baḥr al-maʿāref of Aḥmad b. Moḥammad Kāẓem Eškavarī, a substantial commentary, written in 1288/1871 and dedicated to Mollā Moḥammad-Taqī Barāḡānī (q.v.; Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 7). Two metrical commentaries were composed during this period. Moẓaffar-ʿAlīšāh Ṭabīb Kermānī wrote a mystical maṯnawī on the Sūrat al-fāteḥa entitled Baḥr al-asrār: sabʿ maṯānī, which was first printed in 1329/1911 in Kermān. A prose version of the same work, entitled Majmaʿ al-beḥār exists in numerous manuscripts (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, p. 6). A mystical commentary in verse on the whole Koran, the Tafsīr-e ṣafī was composed by Ṣafī ʿAlī-Šāh (d. 1316/1898) and was first published in 1308/1890-91.
Many Persian commentaries on the Koran have been written during the 14th/20th century. @They include the Ravān-e jāvīd, written by Mīrzā Aḥmad Ṯaqafī Tehrānī; commentaries on Sūrat al-ḥamd and Sūrat al-ʿalaq by Ayatollah Khomeini (published from television broadcasts); the Aṭyab al-bayān, a fourteen volume commentary written by Sayyed ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Ṭayyeb of Isfahan; the Partow-ī az Qorʾān of Sayyed Maḥmūd Ṭālaqānī; and the Tafsīr-e namūna, a commentary in twenty-seven volumes written by a number of scholars under the supervision of Nāṣer Makārem Šīrāzī.
Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail and abbreviations found here, see “Short References”):
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Originally Published: December 15, 1999
Last Updated: January 20, 2012
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Vol. IX, Fasc. 2, pp. 119-123