Muqātil ibn Sulaymān: a neglected figure in the early history of Qur'ānic Commentary
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This study investigates Muqātil ibn Sulaymān's (d. 150/767) hermeneutics in his three extant Qur'an commentaries: al-Tafsῑr al-Kabῑr, Tafsῑr al-Khams Mi'at Āyah min al-Qur'ān, and al-Wujūh wa al-Naẓā'ir fῑ al-Qur'ān al-‛Aẓῑm. It explains Muqātil's understanding of the Qur'an, his exegetical approaches, and the theological concerns undergirding his endeavors. Despite his early importance, Muqātil is an understudied figure because of stigma attached to his views and methods. Later Muslim tradition accused Muqātil of anthropomorphism, inattention to transmission chains, fabrication of ḥadῑth (prophetic traditions), and overreliance on biblical narratives, thus rendering his work theologically and methodologically suspect. Two of these accusations are unfounded, and two are only partially correct but misleading as well as anachronistic. Existing modern scholarship on Muqātil and his commentaries has either focused on these accusations or on uncovering his views on specific topics. None has addressed Muqātil's hermeneutics, the focus of this study. Substantively, Muqātil maintains that the Qur'an consists of divine commands, prohibitions, promises, threats, and narratives of the past. Linguistically, the Qur'an is a complex structure containing utterances of different kinds, which he presents in a series of binaries: general-particular, clear-vague, equivocal-unequivocal, explicit-implicit, and so forth. Consequently, a proper understanding of the Qur'an necessitates interpretation. Muqātil uses three major exegetical methods, namely paraphrasing, crossreferencing, and narrative, and three techniques, namely fragmentation, specification, and completion. Muqātil's commentaries persistently focus on theological concerns revolving around the propagation of belief (ῑmān), in opposition to disbelief (kufr), with regard to the oneness of God (tawḥῑd) and the validity of Muhammad's prophethood (taṣdῑq). He uses theological criteria to evaluate non-Muslim communities as well as Muslims who had shown distrust of or rebellious acts against the Prophet Muhammad. Though theologically uncompromising, Muqātil is legally a pragmatist with regard to interreligious coexistence, especially in his conception of muḥkamāt al-Qur'ān as the perennially unchanging elements of revelation, which serves as the "Islamic Decalogue," laying a common ground for interreligious relations. Furthermore, Muqātil is ethically pacifist in advancing his uncompromising theology, including in propagating tawḥῑd and taṣdῑq and in understanding jihad not merely as an armed fight but also as civilized acts undertaken for God's cause.