The Publication of "Mulla Sadra ,s Principles Of Hermenutics"

by Professor Seyyed Mohammed Khamenei


The interpretation of the Holy Qur'an began in almost the early years of the descent of revelation to the Prophet (æ) and then its transmission was started to the people of Mecca and then Medina. The first commentator and interpreter of the Qur'an was the Prophet (æ) himself. His way was later followed by Imam 'Alí ('a), his cousin, son-in-law and successor. After them, Imam 'Alí's children and grandchildren continued their work. The Prophet (æ) had predicted even their names and birthdates two hundred years before. Imam 'Alí's descendants held the divine station of Imamat or the political and religious succession from the Prophet (æ) and were granted permission to interpret the Qur'an.

Following the Prophet's demise, over the centuries Muslims were divided into various groups. From fiqhi point of view, they had been divided into five religious branches, including Shi'ite, Åanafí, Shafi'í, Malikí, and Åanbalí, and concerning their theological ideas, they had been divided into Shi'ite, Mu'tazilite, and Ash'arite branches.[1] These fell into two big religious groups: Shi'ite and Sunnite. The Shi'ite believed in the appointed succession of Imam 'Alí ('a) and his descendants (designated and appointed on the day of Ghadír) and were considered to be the Islamic orthodox. The Sunnites believed in an elective vicegerency system and aristocracy[2] and considered Abê Bakr to be the first vicegerent (Caliph).

These two main branches of Islam employed different methods in order to interpret the Qur'an. The Sunnites were often interested in interpreting the outward meaning of this Holy Book and seriously opposed esoteric exegesis. However, the Shi'ite leaders (Imam 'Alí ('a) and the other Imams, each in his own time) sought for deeper meanings between the lines of the Qur'an in addition to the interpretation of the outward meaning of words. A group of Shi'ite Muslims who were known as Baìiniyyun (esoterics) from the time of the 6th Imam, Imam J'afar Æadiq ('a), onwards emphasized on esoteric interpretation of this Book.

The above-mentioned group, which was itself divided into various sects, later started a secret struggle against Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphs and provided the basis for the establishment of certain governments in Iran (Isma'ílí) and in the north of Africa and Egypt (Faìimid). Their organization was destroyed with the Mongol's invasion of Iran and the downfall of the Abbasid Caliphate.

The Shi'ite Baìiní disseminated hermeneutics in the sense of accepting a free interpretation of the Qur'an among other Muslims. Even the gnostic sects of 'Sufism', some of which Sunnite and some Shi'ite, all followed the Baìiní school and esoteric exegesis. We can say that the Baìiníyyah were the very guards of the science of the Qur'anic hermeneutics among Muslims.

However, we should also emphasize that, every once in a while, some Shi'ite followers of certain Sunnite schools (such as Åanbalí) opposed any kind of esoteric exegesis and forced Muslims to limit themselves to the outward aspect of the words in the Qur'an. Some of them (Åanbalís), in the guise of guarding the religion, wrote rebuttals and sometimes accused Muslims of atheism.

Nevertheless, the task of interpretation, along with esoteric exegesis or, in its modern sense, hermeneutics, was always common among Muslims. In the time of Mulla Æadra and his master Mír Damad, interpretation was officially combined with philosophical hermeneutics.

Although Mulla Æadra's methodology is rooted in Sufism, it enjoys the color and flavor of his own philosophy. Not many books or essays were written on this issue in the past. However, some essays have been written in this regard recently.

This treatise contains two papers by, each written on different occasion and presented in different congress. They have also been published in Kheradnameh Sadra Quarterly. It is hoped that they provide interested readers with necessary information concerning the above-mentioned topic.



[1]. The chronological order of their development has been taken into consideration here.

[2]. The so-called prominent members of the community.


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