Cancian (Alessandro), The Emergence of Shi’i Sufism: Sultan ’Ali Shah Gunabadi and His Commentary on the Qur’an, Oxford, Oxford University Press, ("Quranic Studies"), 2023, 356 p. ISBN 978-0198877332
Alessandro Cancian is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, where he works on Shi’i Sufism, Qur’anic exegesis, and the intellectual and religious history of pre-modern Iran. A historian of religions and anthropologist, he has published books and articles on religious education in Shi’i Islam, Shi’i Sufism, and Qur’anic exegesis. He edited Approaches to the Qur’an in Contemporary Iran (Oxford, 2019).
The Bayan al-sa’ada fi maqamat al-’ibada (The Elucidation of Bliss concerning the Spiritual Stations of Worship) is a central work in the modern intellectual and religious history of Iran and Shi’i Islam. A Qur’anic commentary (tafsir) by Sultan ’Ali Shah Gunabadi (d. 1909), it represents a mature synthesis between Twelver Shi’ism and Sufism.
In this first detailed study of Sultan ’Ali Shah’s Bayan, 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 Ni’matullahi Sufi order (the Gunabadiyya), Sultan ’Ali Shah was 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 superstar Qajar philosopher Mulla Hadi Sabzawari (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 tariqa, making a credible claim for Ni’matullahi 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. A translation of Sultan ’Ali Shah’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
Preface and Acknowledgments
1:Introduction: The Emergence of Twelver Shi’i Sufism in Early Modern Iran
3:Qur’anic Exegesis between Shi’ism and Mysticism
4:Sufism in Early Modern Iran
5:From Ni’matullahiyya to Gunabadiyya
6:Sultan ’Ali Shah Gunabadi (d. 1909): His Life and Legacy
7:The Tafsir Bayan al-sa’ada: An Introduction
8:A Shi’i Sufi tafsir
9:Themes, Methods and Positioning
10:A Neglected Legacy: The Bayan al-sa’ada and its Reception in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries
Annotated Translation of Sultan ’Ali Shah’s Introduction to the Bayan al-sa’ada fi maqamat al-’ibada
The Structure of the Bayan al-sa’ada through its Subheadings
Index of Qur’anic Citations