Help with course planning!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m going to be offering a course on the Qur’an next semester. One thing I didn’t factor in when I volunteered to do this, however, is how quickly I need to complete the book order (due to some changes in how Shimer is managing its book ordering). So I have two questions:

  • Is there any standard, classical commentary on the Qur’an by a major figure (like al-Ghazali) that is readily available in English translation?
  • Is there any specifically Sufi commentary on the Qur’an that plays a role similar to that of the Zohar in Judaism? Is it readily available in English translation?

I welcome other recommendations as well, but those questions are the most urgent for me.

4 thoughts on “Help with course planning!

  1. There’s no standard (as the Zohar would be). There are quite a few translations of selected or partial commentaries, but if you want an unabridged and complete commentary, try the Royal Aal al-Bayt translation project. They say they’ve published Jalalayn (trans. Feras Hamza), Ibn Abbas (trans. Mokrane Guezzou), Wahidi (trans. Mokrane Guezzou), Tustari (trans. Annabel and Ali Keeler), Kashani (trans. Feras Hamza), Qushayri (trans. Kristin Zahra Sands), and Maybudi (trans. William Chittick), though only the first four seem to be readily available (?). There are non-typeset or partial versions of many of these available to download for free from The latter five are sufi commentaries, as are some of their forthcoming volumes. There’s also a translation of Jalalayn by Aisha Bewley.

  2. One standard classical Tafsīr available in full in English is that of Ibn Kathīr (1301–1373): However, even though I cannot comment on the quality of this translation, it should be noted that the publisher, Dar-us-Salam Publications, is a Saudi publishing house that has been known in some instances to make subtle edits in classical texts that privilege a particular reading of the texts.

    Another known Tafsīr that has been translated a number of times to English is Tafsīr al-Jalālayn (by Jalāl al-Dīn al-Maḥallī (d. 1459) and his student Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī (d. 1505)). This Tafsīr is popular for its simplicity and conciseness. Here are two editions:
    by Feras Hamza:
    by Aisha Bewley:

    There are a number of Sufī-inflected Tafsīrs, but none of which, to my knowledge, have achieved canonical status in such a way. One such early Tafsīr available in English is that of al-Tustarī (818-896), available here:

    If you are looking for more modern commentaries, both Abul A’la Maududi’s “The Meaning of the Qur’an” and Sayyid Qutb’s “In the Shade of the Qur’an” are available in full English translations.

    If you’re after an anthology, which could be useful to look at different commentators on the same passages, here is one handy collection:

  3. I personally have the sense–maybe others can confirm or disabuse me of this–that the creation of these standard commentaries tends to be an academic creation, rather than a reflection of the importance they held for the large communities they circulate within. So, the Zohar is more of an outlier in that way, but especially within Islam there is more of a proliferation of these kinds of texts without one seeming to rise above the rest. That said, I have only read parts of al-Ghazali’s commentary and the much shorter one by al-Sadiq. The vast differences between the two may be what is giving me this impression.

  4. Thanks all. I had seen the anthology Mohammed mentions before, but for some reason I was only getting the hardcover price and thought it was too expensive to assign. It is officially on the book list now!

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