Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies
The Bayān al-saʿāda fī maqāmāt al-ʿibāda (The Elucidation of Bliss concerning the Spiritual Stations of Worship) is a Qur’anic commentary (tafsīr) written by Sulṭān ʿAlī Shāh Gunābādī (d. 1909). A central work in the modern intellectual and religious history of Iran and Shi‘i Islam, it represents a mature synthesis between Twelver Shi‘ism and Sufism. In this first detailed study of Sulṭān ʿAlī Shāḥ’s Bayān, Alessandro Cancian argues that this commentary represents the foundational act of modern Twelver Shi‘i organised Sufism.
Cancian first explores the intellectual contexts of Iranian Shi‘ism and Sufism, before introducing the author and the text. The eponymous master of the largest branch of the Niʿmatullāhī Sufi order (the Gunābādīyya), Sulṭān ʿAlī Shāh was at the same time a religious scholar taught by some of the most authoritative Shi‘i ulama of his time, a philosopher in the Akbarian/Sadrian tradition who studied with renowned Qajar philosopher Mullā Ḥādī Sabzawārī (d. 1873) and a master of mysticism who drew from the classical tradition of Persian and Persianate Sufism. Cancian shows how these elements coalesced into the formation of a Shi‘i Sufi ṭarīqa, making a credible claim for Niʿmatullāhī Sufi legitimacy within the Twelver Shi‘i establishment and influencing subsequent Qur’anic exegesis in Iran. Cancian then provides a thematic and genealogical analysis of the text alongside a study of its impact and legacy, and a translation of Sulṭān ʿAlī Shāh’s own introduction, outlining his hermeneutical approach and theological and philosophical principles, is provided in an appendix.
This book will appeal to scholars in a range of disciplines within Islamic studies, including Qur’anic exegesis, Shi‘i studies, Sufi studies, mysticism, and the intellectual history of Iran.
Note on Transliteration, Conventions and Abbreviations
1. Introduction: The Emergence of Twelver Shi‘i Sufism in Early Modern Iran
2. Shi‘i Sufism
3. Qur’anic Exegesis between Shi‘ism and Mysticism
4. Sufism in Early Modern Iran
5. From Niʿmatullāhiyya to Gunābādiyya
6. Sulṭān ʿAlī Shāh Gunābādī (d. 1909): His Life and Legacy
7. The Bayān al-saʿāda: An Introduction
8. A Shi‘i Sufi tafsīr
9. Themes, Methods and Positioning
10. A Neglected Legacy: The Bayān al-saʿāda and its Reception in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries
Annotated Translation of Sulṭān ʿAlī Shāh’s Introduction to the Bayān al-saʿāda fī maqāmāt al-ʿibāda
The Structure of the Bayān al-saʿāda through Its Subheadings
Index of Qur’anic Citations
'A refreshingly innovative and exciting study of a neglected field. Cancian makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of modern Qurʾanic exegesis, the study of Sufism in Shiʿi contexts, in addition to the modern intellectual history of Iran. Sulṭān ʿAlī Shāh’s works are rare treats ranging over a number of the traditional Islamic humanities, and their significance and lasting legacy are drawn out, explained and demonstrated with great skill. Texts and contexts are treated with care, empathy and theoretical sophistication. Cancian’s work ought to be essential reading for students and specialists alike interested in the intersection of religion, culture and politics in modern Iran.'
– Sajjad H. Rizvi, University of Exeter
'An original and significant contribution that contextualises the tafsīr Bayān al-Sā’ada within the history of Iranian Twelver Shi’ism and throws light on the development of the Shi’i Sufism that emerged as a consequence of the efforts of key Iranian Shi’i figures, especially those associated with the Gunābādī order. In addition to providing a translation of the introduction and parts of the Bayān, it also takes account of pertinent historiographical issues surrounding it and other related elements, such as Shi’i history and Sufism among Shi’i intellectuals. This book will be valuable also to those outside the field of expertise, and of interest to the general reader. An intellectually impressive work.'
– Milad Milani, Western Sydney University
Alessandro Cancian is a Senior Research Associate at The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London (IIS), where he works on Shi‘i Sufism, Qur’anic exegesis and the intellectual and religious history of pre-modern Iran. An historian of religions and an anthropologist, he has published books and articles on religious education in Shi‘i Islam, Shi‘i Sufism and Qur’anic exegesis. He is the author of La Scuola degli Imam: L'Iran e l'educazione religiosa nell'Islam sciita (2016) (The School of the Imams: Iran and Religious Education in Shi'i Islam) and he edited Approaches to the Qur’an in Contemporary Iran (Oxford, 2019). He is co-editing the volume On Ethics for An Anthology of Qur'anic Commentaries (IIS/OUP). He is also an amateur perfumer, and is translating the treatise on perfume-making known as Mijmara (The Incense Burner) by the nineteenth-century Iranian Shaykhī master Muḥammad Karīm Khan Kirmānī.